Dutch rail freight carriers outraged over lack of government support

Rail carriers in the Netherlands are not compensated for the 12 per cent increase of track access charges, nor for the cost involved with the transformation to ERTMS. State Secretary for Infrastructure and Water Management Vivianne Heijnen said that she sees few possibilities for additional financial compensation for the time being, after concern was raised by politicians and the industry.

A discussion about the impact on Dutch rail freight carriers was held during a ‘Rail, Rail Safety and ERTMS debate’ that was held in the House of Representatives on Wednesday 8 June. Fahid Minhas, member of parliament of the VVD, called increasing the user fee by 12 per cent in 2023 ‘harmful to rail freight transport’ and asked the State Secretary what this would mean for the modal shift from road to rail.

He also voiced concern over the installation of the new ERTMS security system. “How will the State Secretary prevent rail freight transport from becoming more expensive as a result, which would disrupt the modal shift transition?”, asked Minhas.

Options limited

The fact that freight transport will have to deal with higher costs was acknowledged by Heijnen, but she said that there is little she can do about this. “I am looking at additional options. But there are two things.

“First of all, we will have to look very closely at the possibilities within the state aid framework. And secondly, there is the task facing the cabinet as a whole, such as purchasing power. We have to make complicated decisions. I do expect that the financial resources will be limited in this regard”, said Heijnen in response to the parliamentary questions.

ERTMS reimbursements

The frustration about the ERTMS cost increase flamed up in the context of a recently announced decision by the ministry to reimburse the costs made by national passenger carrier NS, whereas the rail freight sector is carrying these costs for most of its part alone. “If these kinds of resources are available for this, then I think you should really look at the rail freight sector,” said the VVD member of parliament.

Minhas asked the State Secretary to reconsider the allocation of subsidies and to provide clarity about this. “We are in one European Union. I see that ERTMS is reimbursed in Italy and that this is also happening in the Czech Republic. And I see that our rates are substantially higher than in other countries.

I would (nevertheless) like to ask the State Secretary to look at the distribution of the subsidies and also to look at subsequent years, especially at all the cost increases that are to come. I am afraid that we will lose the level playing field that we want to create for as a rail sector if we do not have concrete plans for that”, he emphasised.

What is still possible?

However, according to Heijnen, this is not so easy. “Certain agreements have been made with NS to reimburse costs. It was then decided to reimburse the additional costs in full. That is not possible for commercial parties. I am bound by certain state aid rules.”

Heijnen emphasised that part of the costs for the conversion of wagons to the ERTMS system are already being subsidised for freight transport and that she will use European subsidies as much as possible. “I will look at what is still possible, but that is part of the difficult financial considerations that we have to make”, says Heijnen. She promised Minhas to come back to this subject during the next ERTMS progress report.

The railway freight lobby is outraged by the State Secretary’s limited commitments. “Heijnen disappointed the rail freight industry with a poor policy approach. It can be concluded that the Rutte IV cabinet does not want to work on promoting freight transport from road to rail,” says Hans-Willem Vroon, director of the RailGood interest group. “The Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management spends all its money on ProRail and the NS.”

Additional costs

Research recently showed that the material and operational costs of installing ERTMS will increase by an average of 8 per cent for rail freight transport. In addition, it is predicted that by 2030 there will be a 5 per cent landing loss relative to the growth target for that year.
It would take 180 million euros to remove about half of this effect.

The 12 per cent increase of track access charges is due to inflation. CEO of ProRail John Voppen recently indicated that he would argue with the government to compensate carriers for this, however, that now appears to be in vain.

This article was originally published on Nieuwsblad Transport, our sister publication.

Author: Simone van der Lee

1 comment op “Dutch rail freight carriers outraged over lack of government support”

bönström bönström|13.06.22|12:14

Elderly infrastructur, not designed for todays traffic and speeds, has become too costly, as well for owners, public authorities as for operators – and for clients.
For added edge of railway freight, now remains, “steering”, costs imposed upon clients of the other available mode… This is not good for anybody!
A New Old Railway, now is requested! With added capacity and utilisation of assets, charges can be reduced, a win win…

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