Freight diversification has been uneven, says EC

Rail freight across Europe is rising by around three per cent a year, yet the diversified market has achieved uneven progress and a single European railway area is a long way from being a reality, says the European Commission (EC). Those are some of the conclusions in its Fifth Report on Monitoring Development of the Rail Market.

Most member states charge more for freight trains than for passenger services, but in Germany, Spain, Belgium, France, Luxembourg and Portugal the situation is reversed, says the report. In Austria, Italy, Sweden and Denmark there are no big differences or the results are mixed. Freight charges in the Baltic States are particularly high however and this, says the EC, is ‘to some extent justified’ due to higher permitted axle-loads in those countries. The publication of the report coincided with the staging of the EU Rail Freight Day 2016 in Vienna, the aim of which was to launch a meaningful exchange between all European rail freight stakeholders and the EC on operational issues and interoperability for rail freight.

Diverging trends

The modal share of rail freight in inland freight transport in 2014 was 18 per cent, almost the same as 10 years ago, says the report. Just like passenger services, there are also widely diverging trends in freight at member state level, the increase being strongest in Slovenia, Romania and Hungary. The total tonne-kilometres in comparison to 2009 have declined only in Croatia, Slovakia, Greece and Estonia.

Violeta Bulc, EC Commissioner for Transport, described the latest trends highlighted in the report as ‘positive’ but said that ‘more was needed’ to boost railways.

Stronger European dimension

Compiled using statistics, EC agency reports and member states’ responses to surveys, the report says despite an unfavourable economic climate since 2009, rail freight volumes (measured in tonne-kilometres) – which dropped heavily that year – had still not recovered. However, the latest indications were that freight currently has a ‘good’ three per cent average annual increase rate. More than 50 per cent of freight traffic in 2014 was international, giving rail freight a ‘much stronger European dimension’ than that of passenger movements.

“The opening of the rail freight market in 2007 coincided with the economic crisis hitting freight transport services hard in all modes,” adds the report. “Given that there has been a steady increase in the market share of competing rail operators almost in all member states, it seems that the new entrants have coped relatively better with the challenges of the crisis.”

Under state control

On average, the market share of competing freight operators, which was 15 per cent in 2006, had more than doubled by 2014. But at the end of that year, rail freight transport remained entirely under state control in Finland, Greece, Ireland, Lithuania and Luxembourg. The report also references the recent European Court of Auditors’ report, which said while freight transport was more environmentally friendly, it was failing to respond to competition from the road.

Moving forward, the report adds, the EC’s focus would be on implementing existing legislation designed to bring about the necessary improvements. The EC is working closely with the European Railways Agency, member states, national regulatory bodies and rail stakeholders through forums such as the European Network of Rail Regulatory Bodies, to ensure legislation is carried through. These include implementation of the TEN-T guidelines, deployment of the European Rail Traffic Management System, securing funding for rail infrastructure projects, embracing digital innovations and launching projects under Shift2Rail. It is also preparing to implement the technical pillar of the ‘4th Railway Package’, which aims to further improve the rail sector’s competitiveness and quality of services by removing administrative costs and ensuring a level playing field for operators.

The full report can be downloaded from the EC website.

Author: Simon Weedy

Simon is a journalist for - a dedicated online platform for all the news about the rail freight sector

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