Image: Antwerp Port Authority

Belgian rail freight sector asks waiver of track access charges 2020

The Belgian Rail Freight Forum has asked its government for short-term support to get the sector through the crisis. At the peak of the pandemic, there was an average 30 per cent less demand for freight transport. The rail freight industry had already gone through a very difficult period with many major works on the Belgian rail network and strikes in France. This has been costly, and the sector needs urgent help.

This is the plea of the group of united rail freight parties in Belgium. In concrete terms, the rail freight companies ask to waive the railway costs from Infrabel for 2020. This measure is encouraged by the EU and has already been carried out in neighboring countries such as the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland, the group says.

Paul Hegge, who represents the group: “We are a sustainable sector, with a clear commitment to our society and economy, and a high-quality employer of 5,800 jobs, perhaps 9,000 in the future. Supporting this sector is a good investment, not a cost. ”

Master Plan

The ultimate goal of the RailFreight Forum is to double the volumes of rail freight transport in Belgium and Europe. To this end, it has been working out a Rail Freight Master Plan. This proposal should be ready for the next government to implement by the end of this year. Today, it presented the plan to the federal parliament.

Specifically, the rail freight sector asks the Belgian government for two things. First, infrastructure manager Infrabel should receive a new management agreement with a clear mandate for modal shift. While today Infrabel still functions too much as an infrastructure manager in the strict sense of the word, it has to switch to the role of flow manager, the group argues. Paul Hegge: “What we really need is a flow manager that ensures that trains connect seamlessly and stop as little as possible. And it doesn’t cost millions, it is mainly about a different mind-set. ”

This new mind-set must be accompanied by limited but targeted investments that will lift the Belgian rail network to the European level. This means, for example, adjusting the tracks so that longer, higher and wider trains can pass, but also the digitisation of the rail network so that train drivers no longer have to get off to manually change switches.

Level playing field

Secondly, the sector demands that the government creates a level playing field between the different transport modes. Rail is nine times more sustainable in terms of CO2 emissions, eight times in air pollution and six times in energy consumption. Hegge: “We also reduce traffic jams by removing cargo. We therefore ask the government to help us in offering sustainable transport and to encourage our companies and carriers to opt for sustainable transport. ”

The sector is therefore asking the government to reduce the costs it pays to Infrabel and to increase subsidies for intermodal and staggered transport. At the regional level, it asks to compensate carriers that transfer a container from the road to the rail by means of the so-called transfer check, a proposal it launched last year together with Febetra.

Acting now

Pieter Vanovermeire, CEO of rail freight operator Railtraxx: “If we do nothing now, the negative impact will increase in proportion to the growth of the transport sector. Rail is by far the most sustainable means of transport, so we have to switch quickly to get cargo out of traffic and onto the rails. The climate theme ensures the right climate for our sector to take a number of politically brave decisions.”

In neighboring countries of the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Sweden and Italy, ambitious rail projects have been launched or are under construction. For example, Germany has already launched the German Rail Freight Masterplan and the Package of Measures is available in the Netherlands.

Geert Pauwels, CEO of rail freight operator Lineas: “Our neighboring countries are fully committed to rail freight transport through the right framework, ambitious projects and the necessary budget because they realsze that this will ultimately save a huge amount of social costs. It is high time that Belgium joined the project.”

Author: Majorie van Leijen

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

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