File: Greening Freight Package

Greening Freight Package: first look positive, concrete actions must follow

Image: Shutterstock. Geza Kurka_Hungary

The European Commission’s proposals for greener freight transport announced on Tuesday, 11 July, seem to be on the right track. The new Greening Freight Package measures highlight rail and the optimised capacity use and allocation for national and international freight services. “There is space for optimism, given that tangible solutions are implemented”, comments Akos Ersek, chief policy advisor at UIRR.

The Commission’s proposals have three main pillars: “more efficient use of rail capacity, new incentives for using low-emission lorries and the CountEmissionsEU methodology to calculate greenhouse gas emissions”. Ersek says that, currently, it is only possible to assess the expectations and pledges of the plan and, at a later stage, the legislation when available. At the same time, he underlines that promises should be followed by well-defined rules and more elaborated positions to make a difference.

Request capacity anytime

As mentioned, rail capacity management is one of the main highlights of the Commission’s proposals. In this case, the Commission has said it aims to “better respond to the different needs of the rail sector with stable timetables and early booking of tickets for passenger services, and flexible train runs adapted to just-in-time supply chains for freight shippers”.

The main benefit for the rail freight sector is that Railway Undertakings will be theoretically able to request capacity anytime based on market needs instead of filing requests within rigid timelines, according to what Adina Valean, Transport Commissioner, stated in the EU Parliament.

At the same time, Infrastructure Managers will be responsible for working more flexibly for long-term strategic planning and short-term capacity allocation. Moreover, Valean stressed that Infrastructure Managers will need to plan construction works in advance and minimise the impact while not only relying on cancellation fees.

The capacity is there, the rules are not

“It is possible that the Commission has come to realise the need to do something here. This is an interesting proposal, assuming that the EU legislation will create rules that guide capacity allocation decisions in case of conflict primarily between passenger and freights applicants. The cost-benefit principle will hopefully gain traction and become the basis of future capacity allocation decisions,” comments Ersek.

During the EU plenary parliamentary session, the European People’s Party mentioned that “kindly asking Infrastructure Managers to think more ‘European’ will not do the trick and that it hopes that parliament will amend the proposal and make it more concrete”. EPP mentioned that with regards to capacity allocation and specifically cross-border rail freight trains that should run seamlessly between EU member states since, as the Commission itself admitted, “50 per cent of rail freight traffic crosses borders”. Ersek also agrees with this point. “We need not rigid but well-defined rules based on which Infrastructure Managers can make their capacity allocation decisions. That has to be in the regulation to provide a framework that does not exist”.

He also points out that today there are 5-6 times as many passenger trains as freight trains on the tracks. Many of the passenger trains are short and lightweight and not always full. “If the new rules result in one less passenger train path, then the passenger capacity can be compensated with longer passenger trains with practically no impact. However, this one extra train path could double rail freight capacity”, he underlines. Again, it is up to the politicians whether they would accept such a development since Ersek is convinced that the passenger public would accept such a change.

Heavy cargo belongs on rail

The second most important measure proposed by the Commission aims to incentivise the use of low-emission lorries and is accompanied by a new weight and dimension regulation. This proposal foresees the revision of weight and dimension rules in road transport that will result in heavier and longer trucks on the roads. However, Ersek says that this can prove very tricky.

“No heavy cargo should be travelling as a principle on the roads; heavy cargo belongs on rail”, he stresses. Yet, this does not seem to be the case in the Commission’s proposals, and UIRR expects a more elaborated position from the EU. Another point of critique that also ERFA and CER expressed concerns the fact that the weight and dimensions directive should be revised in conjunction with the combined transport directive.

Everyone agrees that the two legislations should be considered in parallel to ensure interoperability and fair competition between road and rail transport. However, everything will be determined after the Commission releases its official documents. “UIRR and the freight sector will work closely with legislators to ensure that the needed amendments are in place”, concludes Ersek.

RailFreight Connects

The RailFreight Connects event, taking place in Bremen, Germany, on 6 and 7 September, will be the first European-level event where the Greening Freight Package will be discussed thoroughly with sector representatives. UIRR will also be present to provide its perspective and discuss the pros and cons of the new measures. You can learn more about the programme here and secure your tickets here.

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Author: Nikos Papatolios

Nikos Papatolios is the Chief Editor of RailFreight.com, the online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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Greening Freight Package: first look positive, concrete actions must follow | RailFreight.com