EU combined transport grows, still space for improvements

Combined transport in Europe presented a ten per cent increase during the fourth quarter of 2020, compared to the same period in 2019. The pre-Brexit preparations, together with this usually busy period of the year, are responsible for the increase, according to industry association UIRR. Increased capacity for freight and the relatively mild winter weather also helped.

In general, the last quarter of 2020 was a positiveperiod for combined transport (CT). Passenger trains’ scarcer itineraries resulted in more space on the network, and this led to improved punctuality for freight trains. This was also increased due to relatively few delays or bottlenecks because of winter conditions, described the International Union for Road-Rail Combined Transport (UIRR).

However, in January, European CT was struck by Denmark’s ban of semi-trailers on pocket wagons. Currently, the CT sector is working with various stakeholders towards a resolution of this issue. Simultaneously, UIRR mentioned that the sector is looking forward to the correct implementation of EU policies such as the Mobility Package 1 and the Strategy on Smart and Sustainable Mobility.

Great Belt Bridge incident

The safety incident on Denmark’s Great Belt Bridge has occupied news headlines during the last few weeks. The incident took place on 13 January and resulted in a total ban of semi-trailers in all of Denmark that still hasn’t been lifted. Akos Ersek, from UIRR, had exclusively stated in RailFreight Live that this situation costs an additional million of weekly costs to the intermodal operators active in Scandinavia. Understandably, the financial impact of such a decision could potentially prove detrimental.

UIRR mentioned that, thankfully, the incident did not result in an accident like that of 2019. However, it underlined that the bridge’s operator did not implement any changes on the route’s safety measures during the last two years. Specifically, there was no provision of new wind speed meters, cameras or windshield devices. As a result, the case proves to be quite complicated. That is why the CT sector is cooperating with the Danish safety authorities to find a possible solution to the issue, in coordination with the European Union Agency of Railways.

Legislation for further growth

Sooner or later, the issue of banned semi-trailers will meet its solution. In the meantime, there are long-term goals for UIRR that will most certainly play a crucial role in CT’s growth in the years to come. First comes the Mobility Package 1, for which UIRR also released a study last month. Implementing the EU haulage rules could severely impact Combined Transport due to the “deterioration of price competitiveness”. Thus, UIRR calls the Member States to use legislative tools to avoid the damage of CT and the divergence from green goals for the sake of “improving social and working conditions for road haulage”.

Last but not least is the Strategy on Smart and Sustainable Mobility released by the EU Commission. UIRR welcomed this measure package since it “identifies all the needed steps to achieve the objective of shifting a significant portion of long-distance road haulage to sustainable modes”. For that to happen, though, “the intermodal sector will have to be granted effective temporary compensatory measures to be able to offer the right prices needed for the targeted shift”.

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Author: Nikos Papatolios

Editor at RailFreight.com

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