The "reverse modal shift" from train to truck is now certified by the numbers 07/03/24

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The "reverse modal shift" from train to truck is now certified by the numbers: what is being done to stop it? (spolier: little or nothing from the institutions).


Based on the first numbers relating to traffic results communicated by rail transport operators, the year 2023 confirms the worsening of the setback for the freight railway system in Europe which had already manifested itself in 2022.


In particular, the combined transport sector seems to be very affected. HUPAC declared that in 2023 it had an overall drop in the number of shipments of 11.7% (-7.6% for transalpine traffic through Switzerland), while KOMBIVERKEHR reports an average drop of 15.9%, higher ( -17.5%) in international traffic and more limited (-10.1%) in domestic traffic in Germany.


The Italian association Fermerci has estimated a reduction of 3.2% in terms of trains*km carried out on Italian territory. The data cannot be directly compared with those in the previous paragraph, as there is no connection between trains*km and the number of shipments or tonnes actually transported.


Even if the definitive data for the years are published by the MIT in the National Transport Account in the second following year, and therefore even for 2022 we can still only refer to estimates, the situation for 2023 still appears very critical.

A reliable estimate for 2022, obtained with a model verified on definitive data from previous years, uses data from HUPAC, which is one of the most representative players in international combined transport in Europe. Hupac had declared an average drop of -1.8% on its European network for 2022 compared to 2021, with a worse result (-2.9%) for the north-south corridor involving Italy. In this case, the modal share of railways in Italy could be projected to reach 11.29% for 2022 compared to 11.64% (real) in 2021. For 2023, if we adopt the same point of view and consider the decline of the -7.6% declared by Hupac in the transalpine segment which mainly concerns Italy, the modal share of the railway in Italy could stand at 10.4% for 2023 in the hypothesis that the overall volume of freight transport remained equivalent between 2022 and 2023. A value which, if confirmed, would take us back to the levels of 2019 or even before 2012.





On the contrary, as regards road freight transport, the 4th quarter 2023 Report of the "Observatory on passenger and freight mobility trends" at the MIT indicates a growth in 2022 of approximately 2.5% (in number of traveling vehicles) with good performance of transport on motorways, therefore mainly linked to long distances.


The difficulty of guaranteeing an adequate level of service by the railway system is therefore actually translating into the reversal of the modal shift repeatedly denounced by sector associations, with operators now finding it more convenient to return to the road by withdrawing from the railway.


The factors that penalize rail traffic are now well known: from the instability of flows resulting from growing geopolitical tensions in areas that impact the European economy (Russian-Ukrainian war, attacks in the Red Sea), to the reduction in the capacity of the railway network linked to the massive maintenance and renewal works of the lines, in Italy but above all in Germany.

Furthermore, in the second half of 2023, the interruptions of the Frejus railway crossings and (partial) of the Gotthard base tunnel had a huge impact, which will also have important repercussions for a good part of 2024.


And the mess of the European regulation on the weights and measures of road vehicles, approved last February 14 by the Transport and Tourism Committee of the European Parliament without substantial changes compared to the proposal, despite the well-founded opposition raised by transport representatives, certainly does not help to improve the prospects. freight railway.


On the other hand, even the transport policies of the states are doing nothing to safeguard the survival of railway operators. In fact, it is not enough to invest funds to improve the infrastructure if in the meantime the number of customers is reduced, not to mention the German case which while on the one hand hinders traffic with maintenance centers (postponed for too many years and now to be started all together ), on the other hand it cuts funds for new maintenance and upgrading works on the lines.


It therefore seems that despite the great ambitions of European and national politics for the strengthening of the railway with a view to environmental and social sustainability, in reality, great inattention and a short-term vision prevail, incapable of understanding the consequences of actions initiated, but also of not starting those that would be necessary.


Railway companies and railway logistics operators are doing their best to optimize the use of resources and to reorganize the offer so that it is as reliable as possible for the customer, but even optimization has a limit, beyond which the services are no longer economically sustainable.


If politics really cares about taking trucks off the road, now's the time to prove it .