UIRR Newsletter Q3.2020: A breather form the lockdowns 24/11/20

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A breather from the lockdowns

European Combined Transport volumes changed minimally, down by 1,43% during the July-September period of 2020 demonstrating the breather that the slower spread of the coronavirus pandemic allowed after the Spring lockdowns.  The year-to-date reduction in intermodal transport performance  has been somewhat lower than the decline in the EU GDP.  The ongoing economic disruption is foreseen to weigh heavily on Combined Transport. While the sector is working hard to maintain services and to acquire new customers, the sentiment of CT actors for the next 12-month period stands at ‘slightly negative’.

Rail freight seemed to have been operating without many of the obstacles that hindered the circulation of trucks during the sudden lockdowns imposed during the Spring. The easing of the border crossing restrictions together with the “green lane concept” – quickly invented and championed by the European Commission – has meant that the obstacle rapidly evaporated.  In its place came traffic-free motorways, record low fuel prices and hauliers desperate to hold on to their market shares.  Road freight rates rapidly declined to a two-year low.

The compensation of railway transport emerged as a necessity.  The European Commission drafted a proposal, which was passed by the European legislator in October enabling the waiver of track access charges – the most practical way to extend support to both passenger and freight transport by rail.  UIRR has pleaded with rail freight undertakings to pass on the track access charge rebates that they may receive to the Combined Transport Operators, who bear the commercial risk for the intermodal trains that they struggled to refrain from cancelling to maintain service quality levels.

Long-term rail freight sector initiatives progressed even as the pandemic caused significant daily challenges.  While the Berlin Declaration – organised by the German Council Presidency – offered the opportunity for Member State governments to attest to their intentions for having more rail freight, the accompanying Sector Statement Group report confirmed the considerable progress achieved by the sector players.  These reorganisation efforts will fix several of the causes that result in the inconsistent quality performance of rail freight in Europe.

The European legislative scene has been focused on the Multiannual Financial Framework, the 7-year EU budget, and Next Generation EU, the €750 billion post-COVID economic recovery package of the block.  Rail freight and intermodal transport offer several opportunities for Member States to use these funds in an efficient way that also takes them closer to their respective decarbonisation objectives.

UIRR produced the European Intermodal Summit videoconference on 27 October.  The line-up of speakers included Transport Commissioner Adina-Ioana Valean, German State Secretary Steffen Bilger, EP TRAN Committee First Vice Chair István Újhelyi alongside 12 intermodal CEOs.  The focus of attention at the well-attended conference was on the solutions that Combined Transport delivered to the European society and economy since its inception, as well as the efficient solutions that it presently offers to counter the significant challenges of our day.

Ralf-Charley Schultze – President

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