Metrans terminal in Senov, Czech Republic. Illustrative

‘Who will be filling the freight trains that Europe wants to have?’

European legislators will begin their trialogue negotiations in the next days to come to a common agreement regarding the amendment of the 27-year-old Combined Transport Directive. These amendments should ensure more harmonised rules for combined transport, which mainly consists of cross-border operations.

The trialogue meeting is a type of meeting used in the EU if the European Council does not agree to the amendments proposed. The European Commission (EC) has proposed amendments to the Directive and carried out several consultation exercises over the last four years. The Parliament delivered its feedback in May, and the Transport and Tourism Committee (TRAN) adopted the amendment in July. But, under the Austrian presidency the proposal was adapted to a form considered unacceptable by many.

Cross-border operations

“The Combined Transport Directive has always been an instrumental enabler of combined transport operations in the face of the countless subsidies enjoyed by its prime alternative: longer distance road haulage.

The Directive in its current form may be imperfect, but it describes uniform rules for combined transport within the EU Internal Market. As eight percent of CT trains cross at least one internal border of the EU, it is exceptionally important that the same rules apply on both sides of all internal borders of the European Union”, says the International Union for Road-Rail Combined Transport (UIRR), which presented its position paper to the trilogue meetings on Tuesday.

Encourage combined transport

The aim of the amended directive is to encourage combined transport, explains Ralf-Charley Schultz, Director of the UIRR. “Currently, only 43 per cent of intermodal traffic in Europe falls within the scope of the directive, therefore enjoying the incentives provided. With the proposal of the EC, this may increase to 70 per cent.”

A major topic of debate has been the distance of a combined transport road leg (the distance covered per road). Under the EC proposal, this is to increase to 150 kilometre, within which operators are free to use the terminals of their choice. The maximum allowed fixed distance may be exceeded to reach the nearest terminal offering the required services to deal with the cargo shipped and the type of loading unit used. But, the compromise proposal drafted under the Austrian Presidency puts Member States in charge of defining what makes a terminal ‘nearest suitable’.

Position paper

In its position paper, UIRR states that the intermodal sector expects a smart compromise to continue delivering the best alternative to longer distance road-only haulage. “The intermodal sector asks for a clear definition of “suitable terminal”, bureaucracy minimalisation in enforcement, the legal equivalence between cross-border road haulage and an international Combined Transport operation maintained.

It asks for compensation of disadvantages through state aid measures – including the encouragement of investment into transshipment terminals. And, the Commission’s biennial CT reporting regime should be reinforced with the support of a standardised Member State input following the example of the Rail Market Monitoring Scheme.

Modal shift

“Combined Transport is an important provider of freight solutions all over Europe, integrating all modes of transport. On the rail side, Combined Transport compensates declining conventional commodities on freight trains and enables the carriage of every type of cargo efficiently and with the lowest carbon footprint”, the UIRR states.

“The entire modal shift ambitions are largely depending on CT as well, since containerisation allows for a wide range of cargo to be efficiently transshipped between the various modes of transport. By undermining Combined Transport, it is unclear how and who will be filling the freight trains that Europe wants to have.”

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Author: Majorie van Leijen

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