Freek van Arkel

Dutch masterplan for rail freight should be kept on track

The measures proposed by the Dutch government to enhance rail freight volumes and create a level playing field with Germany have been discussed in Parliament yesterday. The sector handed in a petition two days earlier, in order to point out the vulnerabilities of the plan.

The petition elaborates on several concerns of the industry. The subsidies that have been made available to lower track access charges to a ‘German level’ may prove to be in vain, if proposed changes to the calculation method will be implemented. Moreover, capacity for rail freight must be safeguarded, and the industry needs financial support along with the implementation of ERTMS. 

Increased infra charge

In June this year a measure package was presented by the Dutch government and the Spoorgoederentafel, a platform consisting of rail freight operators, shippers, seaports and Dutch rail infrastructure manager ProRail. The aim is to increase rail freight volumes to 54-61 million tonnes in 2030, from 42 million tonnes in 2016. Apart from lowering the infra charge, the government will utilise national and European funds to facilitate the transition to ERTMS, and modifications will be made to enable driving with longer trains, up to a length of 740 metres, it promises.

Various parties saw the need for another petition, reminding the government of the priorities of the rail freight sector. Due to a new calculation method of the minimum access package starting end 2019, heavy-weight trains will be charged a lot more. “The problem here is that more than 80 per cent of rail freight trains are between 600-3000 tonnes, so many rail freight operators will face higher charges than what they used to pay”, explained Hans-Willem Vroon, director of lobby organisation Rail Good.

Subsidies nullified

Starting next year, a grant amount of 12 to 14 million Euros will be made available per year in order to bring down track access charges to the German level. This is an important prerequisite for the Netherlands to compete with its neighbour on a level playing field. But according to the signatories of the petition, part of this subsidy will be nullified again with the new calculation method.

Vroon also points out that the costs of using the railway may increase further in the coming years, because ProRail wants to make the use of the stabling and sorting sidings by freight trains more expensive from 2020 onwards. “We therefore ask you (the Parliament) to urge the State Secretary that an increase of the costs on various parts of the user charges in the period 2019-2024 must be prevented.”

Capacity demand

The signatories are also concerned about the plans to increase passenger services on the high-frequency railway to journeys of every ten minutes. Steven Lak ,Chairman of Evofenedex and the Rail Cargo Table explained: “The growth in the number of passengers on the railway tracks is becoming increasingly tense with ambitions to transport more goods by rail.”

According to the parties, the plans are at odds with the flow of goods from the Dutch ports, industry and distribution centers which also have to be handled by rail. The state secretary must guarantee the flow of goods in the capacity allocation decision, they believe.

ERTMS

The ERTMS security system is also a point of attention according to the parties involved. State Secretary Stientje van Veldhoven indicated earlier that it is important that in the transition phase to ERTMS ‘the competitive position of rail freight transport does not deteriorate’. However, according to the parties, the compensation promised to freight operators for the installation of the safety system in the trains is far too low.

“The financial capacity is lacking in the sector to invest another 120 to 180 million Euros in a new version of ERTMS in the short term. Full funding by the government of the national rollout of ERTMS for rail freight transport is therefore necessary”, said Vroon.

Quieter trains

During a conference taking place on the day before the debate in the Parliament, van Veldhoven reiterated that a lot could be done as long as the government and sector worked together. The sector will be supported with subsidies, but in return she expects the sector to put an effort in making trains quieter. “With the increase of railway volumes, every train should become a little quieter”, she noted. “In this way, there will be more acceptance towards rail as a modality.”

Vroon commented: “Concrete agreements have been made in the package about rolling out quiet equipment over the next three years. In order to transport hazardous substances as safely as possible, shippers, carriers and infrastructure manager ProRail will choose the safest routes in close consultation and operate as much as possible on the Betuweroute. The Board for Rail Transporters of Evofenedex and the ministry have drawn up a covenant for clean and quiet rail freight transport and as many relevant trade and production companies as possible can join. As a result, rail freight transport causes fewer environmental effects and will improve the image of the sector for regional authorities and residents of the railways. “

The petition was signed by RailGood, KNV, Evofenedex, Branche Organisatie Zeehavens (BOZ), DB Cargo, lobby organisations and port authorities.

Author: Majorie van Leijen

Majorie van Leijen is editor of RailFreight.com, online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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