Tuesday, December 18, 2018

European Rail Freight Sector Needs Support, Cooperation and Container Standardisation

Push to Grab Traffic from Other Transport Modes
Shipping News Feature
AUSTRIA – EUROPE – Each year the EU holds a Rail Freight Day and earlier this month this gave European Rail Freight Association (ERFA) President Lindsay Durham the opportunity to highlight key priorities for boosting rail freight transport in the coming years. She emphasised the need for cooperation within the sector as the key to unlocking rail's potential and securing its place as the best solution for reducing harmful emissions, decongesting Europe's roads and providing the efficient and competitive services sought by customers.

Speaking in Vienna, Freightliner’s Ms Durham insisted that, after welcoming the Rail Freight Forward initiative, further work needs to be done to ensure much-needed support from infrastructure managers so that rail can compete successfully with other modes of transport for customers. Part of that has got to involve getting national governments to buy into rail freight and support their infrastructure managers in delivering services that meet reliability, quality and cost expectations.

The Rail Freight Forward initiative is a coalition of rail freight operators supported by sector associations, including the ERFA, which aims to achieve a 30% share of rail freight in Europe by 2030. The current share is 18% and the operation was joined by several major operators at the COP24 climate conference in Katowice, Poland last week. This followed the European Commission’s recent decision to allow the German government to subsidise rail freight to the tune of some €350 million.

This incentive is intended to cut track access charges by up to 45%, a saving which must be then passed on via freight rate tariffs. Cynics might say this was simply rubber stamping a new form of subsidy which the German operators have been doing for some time whilst denying the same.

During her speech the ERFA President made several key points which the organisation consider high priorities, namely:

  • Increasing efficiency and reducing costs through a more standardised infrastructure, e.g. a standard gauge to transport standard containers, so that unit costs can be reduced, enabling a more competitive price. If infrastructure is not fit for purpose, then it is the railway undertakings who suffer the inefficiencies
  • Increasing the reliability of rail services by putting in place incentives for Infrastructure Managers to deal with recurring problems on the network, which lead to service delays/ cancellations. Unless responsibility is attributed for trying to prevent and resolve recurring disturbances to the rail network, such as falling trees on the track, suicides and maintenance-relate problems, rail will be unable to seriously address its quality problem
  • An improved framework for delivering competition within rail. Competition drives innovation, investment, efficiency and new ideas. A large part of the policy framework has already been put in place, but not yet is there an open and competitive market in all countries. We would therefore support evolution of the existing rail packages to ensure that there really is absolute clarity and no hiding place for discrimination