4th Railway Package - Technical Pillar


Since 1991, the European railway sector has constantly been reformed by the European Union. The 4th Railway Package, which was adopted in 2016 is by far the largest and most complex legal initiative introduced so far. The 4th Railway Package consists of a political and a technical pillar which introduce substantial reforms for all stakeholders concerned. 

This Guide illustrates in four different chapters the reforms in the field of vehicle authorisation, safety certification and ERTMS trackside approval as well as the new role of the European Union Agency for Railways as ‘frequently asked questions’. Given the fact that the implementation of the 4th Railway Package is an ongoing process, the Guide will be updated on a regular basis, in line with the progress of the reforms being made on EU level.

Christian Rausch
Chairman of the Group of Representative Bodies (GRB)

What does it contain?


The 4th Railway Package is a set of 6 legislative texts designed to complete the single market for Rail services (Single European Railway Area). Its overarching goal is to revitalise the rail sector and make it more competitive vis-à-vis other modes of transport. It comprises two 'pillars' which have been negotiated largely in parallel:

The technical pillar addresses interoperability, safety authorisation, ERTMS track-side certification but also the reduction of national rules and the increased role of the EU Agency for Railways (ERA) to deliver authorisations and certifications.

The 'technical pillar' was adopted by the European Parliament and the Council in April 2016 and comprises:

The political pillar addresses market opening, tendering of public service contracts and access to national rail passenger markets.

The 'market pillar' was adopted in December 2016 and comprises:

Why was it proposed?


The 4th Railway Package (RP) is meant to achieve the following objectives:

  • Achieve cost reductions
  • Remove administrative and technical barriers
  • Increase competitiveness
  • Accelerate the processes of vehicle authorisation and safety certification
  • Harmonise the implementation of ERTMS

The EC quantifies the benefits of the 4th RP on its website :

  • Over €40bn of financial benefits for citizens and companies by 2035 (combined with structural reforms);
  • Provision of up to about €16bn additional passenger-km;
  • 20% reduction in the time to market for new RUs;
  • 20% reduction in the cost and duration for the authorisation of rolling stock;
  • Total savings for companies of €500 million until 2025.

⇒ It is too early to state if and when these benefits will be realised. According to the EU, costs for the sector will increase in the first 5 years after the reforms are implemented and then drop considerably afterwards. Therefore, the rail sector has every interest in being closely involved with the implementation to make sure that the cost increase is limited and that the estimated benefits will materialise!

What are the milestones?


The overview of the milestones of the 4th RP is shown below:

4th Railway Package Entry into force* Transposition**
Political Pillar
DIR (EU) 2016/2370 ‘Governance‘  24/12/2016  25/12/2018 
REG (EU) 2016/2338 ‘PSO’  24/12/2017  -
Technical pillar 
DIR 2016/797 ‘Interoperability’  15/06/2016  16/06/2019 
DIR 2016/798 ‘Safety’ 15/06/2016  16/06/2019
REG (EU) 2016/796 ‘ERA’   15/06/2016  -


*Entry into force: Legal texts need to be published. After the 20th day following its publication in the Official Journal of the European Union, a text enters into force.;

**Transposition: Member States are given a certain period to transpose EU legislation into national law. The timeframe depends on the type of the legal initiative. In the case of a Directive, Member States normally have 2 years from the date of the entry into force. For the case of Directive 2016/797 and 2016/798 the transposition period is three years i.e. until 16th June 2019. Member States have an option to postpone the transposition by 1 year, i.e. until 16th June 2020. To be allowed to do so, they will have to notify the EC and the ERA by 16th December 2018 and set out their reasons for doing so. In the case of a Regulation, there is no transposition period as this type of legislation applies immediately to EU countries' national law when they entered into force (see point 1 above).);

In the case of very complex legislation, such as the 4th Railway Package, the EU foresees various initiatives to help the Member States preparing the transposition. During this so-called “implementation phase”, the EU launches e.g. shadow running processes, pilot schemes, etc. This Guide addresses exactly this phase.

Why is it important ?


The 4th RP brings by substantial reforms, especially in the technical pillar:

    • Shift of technical and safety rule-making from the national to the EU level;
    • Issuing of safety certificates and vehicle authorisations by the ERA;
    • Creation of a new ERTMS track-side approval procedure by the ERA;
    • Fees and charges levied by the ERA on applicants for its certification, authorisation and approval activities;
    • Reduction of national rules by the Member States;
    • Creation of new tools and processes by the ERA (IT portal, board of appeal, pool of experts, etc.).

⇒ Each of these individual reforms has a far-reaching impact on the rail sector (financial, operational, legal, procedural, etc.). In addition, some of these reforms will be delivered through the ‘fast-track’ instrument of delegated legislation (implementing and delegated acts), reducing considerably the time between the proposal and the adoption as well as the power of scrutiny by the co-legislators and the industry.

Why is the 4th Railway Package so particular ?


The 4th RP contains approximately 25 secondary legislative acts, especially in the technical pillar. This means that the Member States and its stakeholders will have to apply primary legislation (i.e. the Directive or Regulation) but also the secondary legislative acts, i.e. delegated and implementing acts. The EC (or rather its legal services) choses which type of act is the most suitable one.
Below a short distinction:

  • Delegated Acts: The power to draft and implement these acts is delegated from the European Parliament and the Council to the Commission. They are developed by the commission to supplement, amend or delete non-essential elements of a legislative act. The European Commission can opt to consult expert groups, but it is not obliged to do so. The EC can choose if it wants to submit the act to the Member States for voting, but it must submit it for adoption to the Council (Member States) and the European Parliament. The latter cannot amend the proposal for a delegated act, they can only adopt or reject it. The most recent example is the Delegated Act on TSIs, which was the first one to be adopted as a ‘delegated regulation’ in September 2017. This means that it applies immediately.
  • Implementing Acts: The responsibility for transposing directives into law usually rests with member states and their interpretation of the requirements. In certain cases when the national legislation must be the same across all member states an implementing act is drafted for member states by the EU for adoption by member states. In contrast to Delegated Acts, the European Commission has to seek input from and voting by the Member States in specific committees. The Council (Member States) and the European Parliament can ‘scrutinise’ the text but with the European Commission to modify the text. The most recent example is the implementing regulation on fees & charges, which is currently being prepared by all stakeholders.

⇒ The secondary acts have been introduced in 2009 to allow the European Commission to become more efficient in its rule-setting. This means that the decision-making process has shortened, and the flexibility of the European Commission has increased in proposing these acts.

⇒ As especially the technical pillar of the 4th RP contains the highest number of these these acts with > 90% of them currently under preparation, the rail sector has every interest to be closely involved with their preparation.