Bid to improve European rail travel

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Moves to streamline rail travel across Europe were announced by the European Commission today.

Proposals to standardise rail passenger fares and timetable data will be followed next year by plans for rules obliging European rail operators to bring their technology systems into line.

The result, said EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas, will be easier cross-Europe rail journey booking.

"If we are serious about getting people onto rail, and particularly about having rail compete with air travel over middle distances, then we need to offer rail passengers the seamless planning and ticketing offers that match the airlines.

"We want to make it as easy, in the future, to book a rail ticket from Barcelona to Brussels, or Berlin to Bratislava, as it is to book a corresponding flight."

He went on: "Making common timetabling and fare information available to operators is a significant first step, but it is just the start of a much bigger push to make pan-European rail planning and ticketing a reality."

The move was hailed by Tory MEP Jacqueline Foster as excellent news for travellers.

"This is a good example of a simple measure the EU can take to make consumers' lives easier and we welcome it."

She added: "Travelling across Europe by rail requires passengers to tackle a whole number of different ticketing systems, often in different languages. This system would enable people to go to their local ticket office and book a trip to Barcelona as easily as a trip to Brighton.

"Airlines have had a system in place for years and rail travel needs to catch up. Many people may prefer to opt for rail travel for journeys to northern Europe but they are put off by the lack of a common ticketing system."

Mrs Foster has been campaigning for a unified rail booking system similar to the airlines' Computerised Reservation System.

She said it was time rail passengers could reserve journeys right across the EU instead of facing the existing fragmented structure involving customers negotiating "hard-to-fathom" foreign websites and different ticketing systems.