7 Lessons on how to put more freight on rail 26/10/18

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If you were to move 1,000 tonnes of freight from Rotterdam to Vienna, you would emit 100 tonnes of CO2 less by train than by truck. This is the reason why rail is supported through climate change policy and by many environmental NGOs, INCLUDING Transport & Environment (T&E).


Seven important points were identified and the website http://lowcarbonfreight.eu/ has been developed  the course of a project performed by Fraunhofer ISI on behalf of T&E.


How to compete with trucks

  • The case for an open market
  • Old freight out, new freight in
  • The other side of the pond: lessons from the USA
  • The cost factor
  • Innovation in rail freight
  • Smarter investment in rail

The project also developed policy recommendations as part of its work:


Fair pricing: There is a disparity between how different transport modes are charged for their use of infrastructure in Europe. Rail pays for every kilometre of infrastructure use while a far smaller percentage of the road network is subject to tolls for trucks. EU member states should toll trucks across the entire road network if they want rail to be more competitive with road.


Data: Companies active in rail collect an insufficient amount of data and the data they do collect is kept under lock and key in their headquarters.  Open data can improve the awareness of railway infrastructure within the logistics sector. If data were shared then logistic companies or shippers could provide maps to potential clients of areas where they have operations that are close to railway sidings of rail freight terminals.


Smart investment:  EU investment often goes towards new infrastructure projects that have a clear “EU dimension” due to their scale. But money should rather be spent on updating existing infrastructure and improving the ability for trains to cross borders seamlessly by removing the bottlenecks and such low-hanging fruit. New infrastructure should only be built if there’s clear evidence that demand is there to warrant the investment.


Innovation:  Rail-related research is limited to innovation that the industry foresees and welcomes. This negates any potential disruptive innovation coming from projects like Shift2Rail. The EU should open a consultation whereby non-industry stakeholders in rail can contribute ideas on what the Shift2Rail research and innovation should be focusing on.

Competition:  More still needs to be done if competition is to be pursued in the European rail freight market. Incumbent operators must learn to share some of the privileges that they inherited from having been state owned. Access should be granted to workshops and other service facilities, whereby new entrants can avail of such facilities for a fair price. There also must be some obligation on rail operators to sell the rolling stock (i.e. locomotives and wagons) that they do not use to new entrants. It is inefficient to have such expensive machines sitting idly on the tracks.  Rail regulators must be given a boost in terms of resources in order to properly ensure that infrastructure is being fairly used. Anticompetitive practices that restrict the growth of rail freight serve no company’s purpose and should be penalised. The national regulators must also be making sure that foreign trains are not being treated any different to national trains.


Collaboration:  In addition to competition, rail must collaborate.  Infrastructure managers need to collaborate across borders in order for international rail to become more seamless. The Rail Freight Corridors are an important EU initiative in this respect and should continue to be supported by EU member states. Data needs to be made available to better assess the performance of corridors.  EU member states also need to collaborate more with the European Union Agency for Railways in order to establish interoperability across the various national systems and harmonise technical standards.  National regulators must be collaborating to ensure fair competition in the market. An understanding of the anticompetitive practices across Europe can help the various regulators look out for similar practices within their home market.