Glen Ruffle: Gravy-trains need rails…

There can probably be few jobs as relaxing as working for the European Railways Agency. Situated in Lille, directed by a Belgian, and working out of a 2009-purpose-built €7.6 million headquarters funded by French taxpayers, the European Railways Agency (ERA) seems to be a very nice place to work.

With a planned €24 million budget from the European Commission (from Europe’s taxpayers), the ERA can top this up with fees charged and revenues from third countries to achieve a budget of nearly €26 million.

So the question becomes, how to spend all this money?

Translation

Of course, this being the European Union, an amalgamation of many different countries, nationalities and cultures who speak different languages, instantly a large amount needs to go on translations. Different sections within the ERA have budgets for translating and interpretation costs, amounting to 855,000 Euros. This money finds its way to the Translation Centre for the Bodies of the European Union, a centralised body that eliminates market competition and thus efficient pricing.

Staff expenses

A further 1,300,000 Euros is allocated for helping to expatriate staff from one country to another, and there is even a €40,000 sum for helping members of staff who are leaving the ERA to relocate in another region.

But why would you want to leave when there is €1,100,000 of social security payments available, covering pre-school costs, maternity and paternity leave, dependent child allowances, household and educational allowances also. And the office in which you work is likely to be highly comfortable – 50,000 Euros is allocated for the purchasing of special ergonomically designed office furniture!

The Agency has €9,350,000 set aside for full-time staff salaries, and an estimated maximum of 120 members of staff. This gives a rather nice average salary of €77,916 a year, or £66,000 pounds.

Purpose

Rather than being paid such a nice sum to sit and indulge in trainspotting, the ERA workers are paid to pursue goals. Naturally for an Agency of the European Union, that goal is to further European integration. Proudly the website announces in the first paragraph that national borders must not be a restriction and logically a consideration to European rail.

The purpose of the ERA is thus to increase, reinforce and strengthen the interoperability of rail networks in European Member States, so that a train from Poland can travel without problems through Germany and into France, for example.

To further this, the ERA manages the European Rail Traffic Management System, a programme aimed at creating a European-wide signalling system. The change-over costs for such a system must be staggering, and there is little that the ERA can do that national agencies, working together, would not be able to do on their own.

Such a system would also erode national systems (such as the UK one) that have evolved over time to take care of specific features related to national needs. Such a European system would also not be enough, for as economic power moves to China, real interoperability needs to be between European, Russian and Chinese railways, to transport produce from China by rail, rather than just between EU states.

Though with the economic crisis of the Euro, the demographic collapse of the EU, and the massive amounts of debt incurred in the Mediterranean states, one wonders for how much longer China might want to trade with the EU ...

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