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Title: An interoperable EU rail system
Sectors of Transport: Transport, Transport, Logistics and multimodal transport, Rail transport
An interoperable EU rail system

An interoperable EU rail system



Directive (EU) 2016/797 on the interoperability of the EU’s rail system


  • It sets out the conditions to be met to achieve interoperability* within the European Union (EU) rail system and defines the subsystems, both structural* and functional*, that make up that system.
  • It aims to facilitate, improve and develop rail transport services within the EU and with non-EU countries, thereby contributing to the completion of the single European railway area and to the shift to more efficient types of transport.
  • The directive is one of three legislative acts covering the technical aspects of the fourth railway package, which aims to revitalise the rail sector and deliver a better quality of service and more choice to passengers. It works alongside Regulation (EU) 2016/796 on the European Agency for Railways (see summary) and Directive (EU) 2016/798 on railway safety (see summary).
  • Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Amending Directive (EU) 2020/700 extended the deadline for the transposition of Directive (EU) 2016/797 and Directive (EU) 2016/798 into EU Member States’ national law.



  • The directive applies to the rail system in Member States, including:
    • vehicles and infrastructure;
    • energy;
    • signalling systems and telematics* applications (e.g. ticketing systems) for freight and passengers;
    • accessibility for persons with reduced mobility;
    • noise issues.
  • It does not apply to:
    • metros;
    • trams, light rail vehicles or infrastructure used exclusively by those vehicles;
    • networks that are functionally separated from the EU rail system and that are intended to operate only local, urban or suburban passenger services, along with companies that operate solely on these networks.

Harmonised requirements

The directive sets out conditions related to:

  • the design, construction, placing in service, upgrading, renewal, operation and maintenance of the parts of the system; and
  • the professional qualifications and health and safety conditions of the staff who contribute to its operation and maintenance.

These conditions take the form of harmonised requirements covering:

  • essential requirements with regard to:
    • safety (e.g. components such as brakes),
    • reliability and availability (e.g. monitoring and maintaining essential components),
    • human health and environmental protection,
    • technical compatibility and operation of the system,
    • accessibility;
  • technical specifications for interoperability for each subsystem or part of a subsystem;
  • related EU standards and other documents allowing the bodies involved to prove their compliance with the essential requirements and technical specifications for interoperability.


The directive sets out the procedures related to interoperable components and systems covering:

  • conditions for being placed on the market;
  • conformity or suitability for use;
  • procedures in cases of non-compliance with essential requirements.

Specific technical aspects

The European Commission has adopted a series of regulations that supplement Directive (EU) 2016/797 with regard to technical aspects.

  • Regulation (EU) No 1300/2014 on accessibility for persons with disabilities, as amended by Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/772, which concerns an inventory of assets with a view to identifying barriers to accessibility, providing information to users and monitoring and evaluating progress on accessibility.
  • Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/773 on the operation and traffic management subsystem.
  • Regulation (EU) No 1304/2014 relating to the ‘rolling stock – noise’ subsystem, as amended by Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/774 which specifically applies to existing freight wagons.
  • Regulation (EU) No 454/2011 on the technical specification for interoperability relating to the ‘telematics applications for passenger services’ subsystem of the trans-European rail system, as amended most recently by Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/775.

COVID-19 outbreak – Amending Directive (EU) 2020/700

Directive (EU) 2016/797 was due to have been transposed by 16 June 2019, with a possible extension of 1 year, i.e. by 16 June 2020. However, to provide the railway sector with greater legal certainty and flexibility to deal with the exceptional circumstances arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, Amending Directive (EU) 2020/700 was adopted to extend the transposition period of Directive (EU) 2016/797 from 16 June 2020 to 31 October 2020.


It has applied since 15 June 2016 and had to become law in the Member States by 16 June 2019.

Member States could apply a one-year extension until 16 June 2020. Member States that have extended the transposition period could further extend it until 31 October 2020.


For further information, see:


Interoperability. The ability of a rail system to allow the safe and uninterrupted movement of trains that accomplish the required level of performance.
Structural subsystems. Subsystems of the rail system relating to infrastructure, energy, trackside and on-board control-command and signalling, rolling stock and other movable railway material.
Functional subsystems. Subsystems of the rail system relating to operation and traffic management, maintenance, and telematics applications for passenger and freight services.
Telematics. The integrated use of telecommunications with information and communications technology.


Directive (EU) 2016/797 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 May 2016 on the interoperability of the rail system within the European Union (recast) (OJ L 138, 26.5.2016, pp. 44–101).

Successive amendments to Directive (EU) 2016/797 have been incorporated into the original text. This consolidated version is of documentary value only.


Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/773 of 16 May 2019 on the technical specification for interoperability relating to the operation and traffic management subsystem of the rail system within the European Union and repealing Decision 2012/757/EU (OJ L 139 I , 27.5.2019, pp. 5–88).

See consolidated version.

Regulation (EU) 2016/796 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 May 2016 on the European Union Agency for Railways and repealing Regulation (EC) No 881/2004 (OJ L 138, 26.5.2016, pp. 1–43).

Directive (EU) 2016/798 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 May 2016 on railway safety (OJ L 138, 26.5.2016, pp. 102–149).

See consolidated version

Commission Regulation (EU) No 1300/2014 of 18 November 2014 on the technical specifications for interoperability relating to accessibility of the Union’s rail system for persons with disabilities and persons with reduced mobility (OJ L 356, 12.12.2014, pp. 110–178).

See consolidated version.

Commission Regulation (EU) No 1304/2014 of 26 November 2014 on the technical specification for interoperability relating to the subsystem ‘rolling stock – noise’ amending Decision 2008/232/EC and repealing Decision 2011/229/EU (OJ L 356, 12.12.2014, pp. 421–437).

See consolidated version.

Commission Regulation (EU) No 454/2011 of 5 May 2011 on the technical specification for interoperability relating to the subsystem ‘telematics applications for passenger services’ of the trans-European rail system (OJ L 123, 12.5.2011, pp. 11–67).

See consolidated version.

last update 18.11.2021

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