Is doubling rail freight’s share by 2050 ‘simply unrealistic’?
The latest transport report by the European Court of Auditors is a “punch in the gut” for rail. “Doubling the rail freight market’s share by 2050 is simply unrealistic, and the EU freight transport network is simply not yet fit for intermodality”, reads the report. UIRR stresses that the target is still feasible under certain conditions.
The EU Court of Auditors report underlines that road haulage still dominates the European transport sector with a market share of 77 per cent that, impressively enough and despite green pledges, keeps growing. According to the auditors, EU policy concerning intermodality is vague, outdated and non-binding to Member States, leading thus to continuous discrepancies and unfair competition between road, rail and barge.
UIRR, which specialises in intermodal and combined transport, partially agrees with the report; however, it stresses that the worrisome findings should not hinder attempts to grow rail’s market share since there is still time to meet the 2050 targets given that specific investments get underway.
Problematic policy points
EU auditors highlighted three policy pillars that undermine intermodal growth in Europe. The lack of a dedicated strategy for intermodal transport is one of them. “Intermodality is rather part of broader strategies on greening freight transport […]. But since these targets are non-binding, the different EU countries set their own. These national targets are not necessarily comparable and aligned with the EU goals and are not easy to assess”, claims the report.
On the other hand, some EU rules, like the Combined Transport Directive, are outdated and, in fact, hinder the growth of intermodal transport instead of encouraging it. For example, claim the auditors, the CT Directive, which dates back to 1992, “requires a paper document stamped by the rail or port authorities throughout the journey, instead of a digitalised workflow. Several attempts by the European Commission to revise the Directive did not find member states’ agreement”.
Finally, increased road traffic is also boosted because EU Member States do not comply with technical infrastructure requirements set by EU law. A good example is the lack of harmonisation regarding using 740-metre-long trains. Such longer trains can only be operated in just half of the core TEN-T network. The TEN-T revision could improve the situation, but with the way things work now, the EU railway network is not prepared for an intermodal transition.
Overally, auditor Annemie Turtelboom found that “the EU freight transport is not on the right track”. It seems, though, that the main issue, in this case, is that the EU is not targeting intermodal growth directly, does not incentivise it properly, and is also trapped in a vicious cycle of Member States not implementing its policies.
Don’t get trapped
UIRR agrees with the report concerning the points of “technical capabilities and capacity limitations of the rail infrastructure, as well as the shortcomings of rail capacity allocation”. Nevertheless, it claims that those findings should not discourage the EU but motivate it for more groundbreaking policymaking.
“The stagnation of road haulage’s market share during the past decade should not mislead policymakers to believing that modal shift is not possible or feasible. A critical mass of decisive legislative changes and the right promotional measures will deliver the modal shift needed to decarbonise freight transportation while boosting its energy efficiency and reducing all other externalities”, pointed out UIRR President Ralf-Charley Schultze.
Furthermore, a study carried out on behalf of UIRR’s CT4EU campaign found that doubling the rail freight market’s share by 2050 is not far from the reality given some specific conditions which, according to UIRR, are: yearly 16,5 billion euros worth of freight-minded investment into the railway infrastructure, yearly 1,5 billion euros investment into intermodal assets and corrective EU regulatory changes to the TEN-T Regulation, the Energy Taxation Directive, the Combined Transport Directive, as well as the creation of new rules on rail capacity management.