Thursday, June 20, 2019

Rail Freight Association Sounds Off On Long Haul Cargo Routes and State Aid

Consultations by European Commission Draw Comments
Shipping News Feature
EUROPE – In the latter part of this year the European Commission will open a public consultation in which stakeholders in the sector will be asked to provide their personal views on how the functioning of the rail freight corridors could be improved. Most industry experts take the view that the corridors are not currently maximising the opportunity to exploit the long haul cargo market.

The EC also proposes to publish the results of a current study which will outline the whole process of paths reservation and running trains through the corridors. The European Rail Freight Association (ERFA) has now stated it believes that the leadership of the Rail Freight Corridors should be strengthened, and has indicated the areas any future revision should target. These include:

  • Setting specific targets for the corridors supported by Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for monitoring cost and quality and the volume of saved CO2 emissions on each corridor
  • More accountability and transparency for the RFCs: annual strategy meetings with all key stakeholders (including end customers), where key actors are held to account
  • Small funding to be available for the RFC to achieve ‘quick wins’
  • A new approach to capacity for freight trains maintaining existing capacity, but providing more flexibility
  • Improved coordination for the handing of long-distance international freight trains

Similarly the ERFA has published its responses to the European Commission request for comments with regard to the revision of the Guidelines on State Aid for Rail Undertakings. The ERFA opines that rail freight transport has changed since the opening up of market to competition more than 10 years ago and the current content of the State aid Guidelines is outdated and does not reflect the actual status of the rail freight market. The ERFA therefore proposes:

  • No more direct or indirect aid should be justified for rail undertakings with respect to restructuring, debt cancellation as well as to purchase rolling stock
  • Temporary structural regional aids could be authorised in limited geographic areas for unprofitable rail freight traffic
  • Specific categories of aid could be created for investments in retrofitting wagons or locomotives to make them more interoperable and/or environmental friendly
  • State aid should be addressed to compensate unpaid environmental and infrastructure costs
  • All information regarding State aid should be published and disseminated at European level at least in two languages (national one and in English)
  • Non-discriminatory conditions must be assured

State aid has long been a bête noire for many of those involved in the carriage of goods by rail with a range of countries including Romania falling foul of the current regulations with France and Germany particularly criticised and accused of ‘killing off’ the Railway Package amendments by then Chairman of the Rail Freight Group, Tony Berkeley, whilst the ERFA itself has also sounded off previously on the subject.