The European Commission (EC) has announced a new regulation to encourage rail operators across Europe to simplify and standardise their booking systems, in order to promote rail travel.

Furthermore, next year, the EC will enforce a legal measure requiring rail operators to ensure their IT systems and practices enable standardised data to be transferred between operators.

Under the new technical regulation, called 'Telematics Applications for Passenger Services', rail companies and ticket vendors would be able to easily share common timetables, ticketing and passenger reservation information between them.

"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," said the European Commission's transport VP Siim Kallas.

"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."

In the airline industry, for example, the use of a common, central reservation system called Amadeus enables journey planning and ticketing to be widely and easily available on a pan-European basis.

"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," Kallas added.

At present, passengers only have a limited choice when it comes to booking cross-border rail tickets, for example, from London to Paris and Brussels through high-speed train operator Eurostar.

Eurostar said that the new regulations presented a number of opportunities for the business.

"It is very part of our business strategy to encourage people to travel on high-speed rail more frequently," a spokesperson for Eurostar said.

"We definitely see there are opportunities in terms of high-speed rail expansion and definitely over the next 10 years to make announcements about new routes and destinations."