Ralf-Charley Schultze (UIRR): The capacity of the lines for freight transport would be increased by the extension of passenger trains 15/03/24

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Source: http://www.dnoviny.cz/kombinovana-doprava/ralf-charley-schultze-uirr-kapacitu-trati-pro-nakladni-dopravu-by-zvysilo-prodlouzeni-osobnich-vlaku

Author: Milan Frydrysek



Ralf-Charley Schultze (UIRR): The capacity of the lines for freight transport would be increased by the extension of passenger trains



Ralf-Charley Schultze (UIRR): The capacity of the lines for freight transport would be increased by the extension of passenger trains

15.3. - In combined transport, the decline in transported goods continued last year. Ralf-Charley Schultze, president of the International Union of Combined Rail/Road Transport (UIRR), gave us an opinion on what needs to be done to stop this trend.


In the UIRR bulletin, you stated that the fourth quarter of 2023 brought another period of significant negative development in combined transport. What do you think needs to be done to reverse this negative trend?

The negative trend currently affecting the European combined transport sector would certainly be reversed by the following four measures: 1. Implementation of the recently adopted European legislation - the revised rules contained in the mobility packages as well as the Eurovignette directive must be implemented in each member state. Failure to comply with this requirement is subject to numerous legal proceedings; 2. Key railway infrastructure such as the Gotthard Base Tunnel and the Frejus line between France and Italy must be restored; 3. Prevention of further disruption of rail freight traffic as a result of strikes; 4. Better coordination of railway infrastructure works and the realization that freight transport is moving from trains to trucks and will remain on trucks not only during the works, but much longer. Therefore, there is a need to provide freight trains with competitive and adequate detour capacities along construction sites.


What development do you expect in combined transport this year?

The decline in volumes should slow down in the first half of the year and could return to growth in the fall. Accidents such as the derailment in the Gotthard Base Tunnel or the landslide that hit the Fréjus line should not be repeated, while we also expect the strikes that crippled rail freight transport in France in 2023 and recently in Germany. In the meantime, new and improved terminals will continue to be commissioned to improve the combined transport offer, and customers should appreciate progress in digitalisation.


Could the proposed directive on combined transport be one of the tools for improvement? To what extent do you consider the proposal satisfactory, or what do you think should be improved?

The Combined Transport Directive, which is currently being amended, will certainly play an important role. Looking at the legislative process, further aggravated by the European Parliament elections in June, we do not expect the amended directive to enter into force before mid-2025. Adding the time needed to draft European implementing acts and for Member States to have made changes in their legal regulations, the new directive on KD will have an impact in 2028 at the earliest. Nevertheless, the UIRR considers the ongoing amendment necessary and important. The commission's proposal was welcomed by the UIRR opinion of 14 December 2023. On 27 February 2024, we published a separate position paper on all the important topics of the definition of combined transport, which should be greatly simplified and de-risked (see further text on this page). Overall, the UIRR believes that the Commission's proposal represents a good basis for progress.


If the current proposal for the Weights and Dimensions Directive is adopted, according to you, there will be a significant decrease in the volume of rail freight transport. What should be changed in the design to prevent these losses?

The UIRR did not like the Commission's original proposal to amend the Weights and Dimensions Directive - we have clearly stated the reasons in our opinion. The text has already been improved by the European Parliament, for example by imposing extensive ex ante analysis before determining new routes for EMS trucks, longer and heavier road vehicles. The legislative process is still in full swing. We have heard of the serious concerns raised by the Transport Council's working group dealing with the formulation of the Member States' position. Therefore, at this stage, we cannot say that the end result of the amendments to the Weights and Dimensions Directive is a foregone conclusion. We will return to your question when the outcome of the trialogue is known.


The European Union has long been trying to significantly shift goods from road to rail and is still failing. Why do you think this is so? Are existing or planned incentives for rail freight and combined transport sufficient?

Although the European Commission has declared its intention to revise the transport regulatory framework with a positive outcome for the transition from long-haul freight to much more sustainable and safer electric freight trains and watercraft, this intention has often not been supported by European co-legislators: Member States have mostly acted in a way that weakened the Commission's proposals or forced their withdrawal. However, the period from 2019 brought a number of positive counterexamples such as mobility packages, the inclusion of road transport in the European emissions trading system ETS 2, the amendment of the Eurovignette directive or the setting of CO 2 emission standards for commercial road vehicles. The result of the package on the greening of freight transport is not yet known. However, it seems that at the level of the European Union there is a visible, albeit slow, turnaround, which should manifest itself in the form of a shift to another mode of transport.


Is the capacity of the tracks sufficient to absorb the large movement of goods onto the tracks? Alternatively, do you think there will be an increase in capacity in the available horizon?

In terms of freight rail transport, rail infrastructure is available in Europe. One only needs to ask about access to this rail infrastructure between its two main users, passenger and freight trains. The ratio of passenger to freight trains is 6:1, some say even 8:1. Passenger capacity could be increased by offering longer passenger trains, running slightly fewer. If the train route of just one passenger train out of every 6 or 8 could be given over to freight trains, we could double the number of freight trains in Europe, which would be more than enough. Freight trains are usually longer and thanks to the TEN-T legislation they will have technical parameters of up to 740 meters in the future. This will also increase the capacity of rail freight transport. Better punctuality will also lead to fewer canceled trains and thus additional capacity.


What is your opinion on the introduction of a digital automatic coupler? It will undoubtedly be a very expensive affair, AND the DAC will be applicable to all existing cars…

The automatic coupler offers a stronger connection between cars, which intermodal freight train operators are undoubtedly looking forward to. DAC's yet-to-be-defined digital and electrical capabilities may also offer the perspectives that intermodal rail freight is seeking. Without knowledge of the possibilities of current DAC solutions, without a vision of a real implementation, including locomotives and all types of freight cars, without a vision of funding the program, it is very difficult for the actors of intermodal freight rail transport to support this initiative, because automatic coupling in itself and as a stand-alone solution is something, what we don't have and don't need today, the digital part will be of fundamental importance.