Rail freight in Netherlands fears high track access charges in 2023

Until last week, railway undertakings in the Netherlands were able to respond to the draft of ProRail’s new Network Statement 2023. Freight carriers in particular made use of this option, as they are faced with a possible cost increase of up to 17 million euros in the network.

The track access charges proposed by the infrastructure manager in the Netherlands for the 2023 timetable mean a decrease in usage fees for most carriers. However, for some carriers, particularly in freight transport, there is a substantial increase in costs.

Shunting and hilling

The Minimum Access Package fee (VMT), which includes access to the railway, the energy supply and other basic matters, will be more than 50 per cent lower in 2023. Passenger carriers such as NS, Arriva and Connexion in particular benefit from this. For rail freight operators, the VMT is also decreasing, but this is offset by an enormous increase in the shunting and ‘hilling’ rates at Kijfhoek. Hilling is a particular shunting technique used at this emplacement yard.

In order to accommodate these carriers, State Secretary for Infrastructure and Water Management Steven van Weyenberg wants to set up a temporary subsidy scheme to compensate for the cost increase. The scheme requires 10 to 14 million euros, an amount that should be financed by an additional levy on all rail carriers.

The envisaged scheme will run for three years and should be phased out gradually over that time. According to ProRail and the ministry, this constitutes a transition to a tariff structure that is more in line with the actual costs of railway usage.

No response passenger carriers

At this stage, the carrier NS says that it does not want to respond substantively to the Network Statement and the State Secretary’s proposal to help pay for the shunting and hilling of freight trains. “It concerns a draft Network Statement that we are discussing with ProRail”, said spokesman Erik Kroeze. “We want to do this carefully and have submitted our questions to ProRail.”

Arriva says it has studied the draft Network Statement 2023. “We also received an explanation from ProRail about the new rates. We then asked questions, which we expect to receive answers to at the beginning of December”, said spokesman Roos Chaudron. Both carriers do not want to make any statements about what they think of the proposal not to disrupt the process with ProRail.

Payment from own pocket

There is less reluctance from the rail freight operators to respond. According to industry organisation RailGood, the subsidy scheme means that carriers will pay from their own pocket. According to RailGood, there is no level playing field with, for example, road transport. “Rail freight transport will have to pay these very hefty parking fees by 2023, but there will be no parking charges for trucks on the parking lots along the highways and provincial roads.”

The fee for the reservation of capacity for shunting and hilling is 0.03384 euros + 0.0003080 euros x track length in meters for all yards with the exception of Kijfhoek. For the Kijfhoek yard, this amounts to 0.03939 euros + 0.0005482 euros x track length in metres. Billing takes place per minute.

Service catalog

In the Netherlands, about fifty parties use the railway network. The Network Statement is ProRail’s catalog of products and services. This contains the offer with the associated rates for, for example, the use of train paths and sidings and shunting, the purchase of traction energy or access to information and ICT services.

The fact that the user fee for one carrier increases and the other decreases has to do with a new method with which ProRail passes on its costs to carriers. At the request of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, ProRail has brought the direct costs (VMT) more in line with the system in surrounding European countries. The other costs are based on the actual costs and should therefore encourage carriers to use the facilities more efficiently.

This means that the total revenue should amount to 432 million euros, based on the use of the track in 2019. It has been decided to gradually increase the revenue from charging costs to 79 per cent of the total costs until 2025 ( 375 million euros) through an integration scheme consisting of the aforementioned subsidy. Whether ProRail and the ministry are actually allowed to apply this regulation has yet to be assessed by the European Commission. This is because there could be unauthorised state aid.

Author: Paul van den Bogaard

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