EU approves €70 million aid to lower Dutch track access charges
The European Commission has approved a support scheme amounting to 70 million Euros in order to significantly reduce the track access charges for rail freight in the Netherlands. The scheme, which will run from 2019 to 2023, will be open to all railway companies operating in the Netherlands and with an access agreement with Dutch rail infrastructure manager ProRail. The EU funds are in support of the subsidy scheme as promised by the Dutch government in the measure package.
The support will take the form of compensation payments to railway companies to contribute to the cost of track access charges. The rail freight companies benefiting from the scheme are expected to pass on the benefits of the aid to their customers, i.e., freight shippers, through lower prices. The Commission found that the measure provides the right incentive for achieving a modal shift from road to rail.
The approval of EU financial aid is good news for the Dutch rail freight sector, which has long complained of high track access charges in particular compared to neighbouring Germany. Railway companies want to see these costs lowered to a ‘German level’ in order to remain competitive as a rail freight country.
One year ago, the Dutch government responded to this demand by promising a significant reduction of the charges in the measure packaged it proposed. In this agreement with the sector, it said to make available a grant amount of 12 to 14 million Euros per year, starting in 2019 and up until 2023. In order to realise these goals, it applied for EU subsidies. These have now been approved.
“It is very good news that the EU Commission has approved these subsidies”, commented Hans-Willem Vroon, who represents the Dutch rail freight sector though lobby organisation RailGood. “This financial aid does not pose any further conditions to the subsidy scheme. This is in line with the German subsidy scheme for track access charges. RailGood is content with this important step in the process of bringing user charges in line with the German charges this year.”
The aim of the scheme is to increase rail freight volumes in the Netherlands to 54-61 million tonnes in 2030, from 42 million tonnes in 2016. This is considered an important contribution to the shift of more freight traffic to rail, an ambition pursued on a European level. With lower track access charges, rail not only competes with neighbouring countries, but also with the road. On this basis, the Commission concluded that the measure is compatible with EU State aid rules.