Single wagon traffic vs block trains: financial support should not be a vicious circle

Image: Flickr. Brian Denton

As many states are already supporting or planning to adopt supportive measures for single wagon traffic, the European Rail Freight Association (ERFA) draws attention to the possibly distorting side effects that such practice could have in the rail freight industry. “Single wagon traffic should be supported but in a way that supports modal shift and growing rail freight volumes as a whole”, says ERFA’s secretary general, Conor Feighan.

ERFA warns against the danger of ‘seeing the tree but not the forest’ in the sense that financial support to single wagon traffic should not be provided in a very targeted and explicit manner to avoid an “artificial transfer of block train volumes to subsidised singe wagon traffic”, since such a development would “not be acceptable”.

Focus on last-mile operations

At this point, countries like Austria and France already support single wagon traffic. In Austria, the support has the form of a subsidy per tonne/km, while in France, subsidies are granted per manoeuvre. The latter is the right way to go, says ERFA, specifically in view of the ongoing discussions in Germany to support the service product. that is because this subsidy (manoeuvre) supports last-mile operations, “especially for less used sidings”.

Moreover, financial aid should not target long-haul operations since such a “subsidy might make single wagon traffic cheaper over longer distances, meaning that it directly competes with block train traffic which is not subsidised”, mentions Feighan. “In such a case, all that happens is moving from one product to another”, he adds.

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Author: Nikos Papatolios

Nikos Papatolios is editor of, the online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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