French railway strikes threaten combined transport 04/04/18

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Prolonged and extensive French railway strikes threaten combined transport

UIRR Members – among them Ambrogio Transporti, Combiberia, LINEAS, Naviland Cargo, Novatrans, T3M and Delta 3 – fear that a prolonged series of extensive strikes at SNCF will result in long-term damage to Road-Rail Combined Transport along the North Sea- Mediterranean and the Atlantic rail freight corridors, and specifically to CT rail services to/from France, the United Kingdom and Spain.

Strikes are bad news for any user of railway transport, passenger or freight, nevertheless history has shown that while passenger services recover the pre-strike traffic levels relatively rapidly, the damage caused to rail freight-based transport-chains is more permanent.  The market share of rail freight in France is proof of this trend: in 2003 the market share of railways in total freight transport in France was still 18 percent, whereas by 2016 it dropped to below 10 percent.  The correlation between prolonged strikes and the contraction of rail freight’s market share is undesirably strong.

The effect French railway strikes had over the years on rail freight services is dramatic.  International CT trains that transit France along the North-South axis – on the Western side of the river Rhine – may have bypass alternatives, however connections to the United Kingdom and to Spain do not.  Domestic CT trains and those international services that connect to points in France suffer the most significantly, also undermining traffic volumes at French transhipment terminals.  Prolonged railway strikes in France can easily have similar effects on the trust of market players as the Rastatt-disaster had in Germany last year, when train traffic along the Rhine Valley railway was halted for 7 weeks. But the economy cannot stop.  Shippers can and will find alternatives to keep the cargo moving, however these alternatives will often be less efficient and more polluting, while adding to the congestion on motorways.

The European Combined Transport sector strongly hopes that the French government, as the owner of SNCF and in charge of managing the public railway network, will manage to ensure continued unhindered access to the French network to all European rail freight users. It is not enough to offer minimum passenger services; the same for freight would also be needed --- where the trains allowed to run should take into account the relations which don't have alternatives outside the country (i.e. to/from the UK, Italy and Spain), as well as port hinterland trains.