Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Rail Freight Group Outlines Requirements for Fair Cargo Competition throughout Europe

European Committee Hears Evidence on What is Needed to Switch from Road Haulage
Shipping News Feature

UK – EUROPE – If European governments are to achieve their aims and aspirations in which rail freight, which they believe to be a cleaner and more economical way to ship the majority of cargo throughout the continent, can be effectively maximised there needs to be a clear focused and mutually agreed system for the carriage of goods by rail. At a public hearing of the European Parliament Transport and Tourism Committee (TRAN) Rail Freight Group (RFG) Chairman Tony Berkeley spoke on the need for a liberalised governance of the railway as a necessary first step towards full opening of the market and a realistic chance of competing with road haulage.

One of the great fears of those who both supply and use rail as a freight carriage system is that, particularly with so many public and private stakeholders in the supply line for rail track and infrastructure delivery, the potential for interference will stymie investment. The RFG says that the most important need is for more operators, able to compete fairly and fully, with lower start-up costs and a structure that offers comfort to funders plus mechanisms to ensure that there would not be any unfair interference from governments or incumbents.

Tony Berkeley’s statement to the Committee spoke of the need for infrastructure managers to ensure fair access to the network, terminals and essential services, to provide fair charging to all and to co-operate with their customers, stakeholders and neighbours to provide a seamless European infrastructure. The RFG position on holding companies remains the same, the members are very uncomfortable with it but seem to have accepted that, with the protectionist nature adopted by many European states toward rail operators in their own countries, outside registered railway undertakings need at least to be able to appeal and list their grievances elsewhere, either to the European Commission or an independent regulatory body.

In closing Tony Berkeley emphasised the need for the European Railway Agency (ERA) to be the main approvals and standards body, with National Safety Agencies acting as their sub-contractors but working to the same European standards (TSI’s) with only the minimum continuing use of national standards. He concluded that it was essential that the 4th Railway Package must be implemented as one package, to create the real single market in rail that will allow fair and transparent competition and growth.

At the meeting, many TRAN members asked questions or sought further information; RFG will be following these up as well as seeing those rapporteurs and others involved in reporting by the Committee on elements of the package.

One of the main points which the RFG always makes when setting out the case for rail is the way which the road haulage industry operates, pointing out the fact it is liberalised, competitive and innovative. Much of this is possible of course because of the sheer number of operators, all those in any single country having to comply with exactly the same regulations whilst paying the same rates of duty, taxes etc. Enough problems arise over international road carriage with discontent over fuel price discrepancies, Eurovignettes etc., without a single European market for rail the RFG concludes it will never compete with road transport and governmental aspirations will thus founder.