French combined transport plan sees 60% traffic increase in 4 years 22/02/23

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Industry body GNTC, SNCF-owned Rail Logistics Europe (RLE) and consultants Altermind have published a report on their development plan for French combined transport, which makes provision for traffic to increase by 60 per cent by 2027.


Additionally, the joint report underlines that bi-modal transport is France’s most dynamic segment of rail freight and currently accounts for 39 per cent of total activity in the sector, reaching 14 billion t/km in 2021.

Structural handicap

However, despite strong growth, the segment is being hampered by two structural factors. The first concerns the management of rail capacity on the network, which gives too much priority to construction and maintenance works rather than the availability of infrastructure for long-distance traffic. The second relates to the allegedly poor state of freight terminals, which is detrimental to the quality of service offered by operators and does not allow them to meet customer demand. Most terminals in France are managed by the state railways-owned infrastructure manager, SNCF Réseau.

France’s national strategy for the development of rail freight – which aims to double its modal share of goods from 9 per cent in 2019 to 18 per cent in 2030, reaching 25 per cent in 2050 – provides for several measures to promote combined transport, but it does not deal specifically with the processes and investment needs, leaving them for further study. The report warns that without a stronger commitment, the whole strategy to revive rail freight is in danger of failing.

Three-pronged focus

The development plan drawn up by GNTC, RLE and Altermind focuses on three main areas: firstly, upgrading the rail infrastructure, where a key element is increasing the capacity allocated to combined transport to levels corresponding to its needs. Investing in existing and new terminals and creating favourable conditions for private investment is also a priority.

Secondly, permanent and recalibrated support for combined transport operators to provide visibility and be more effective mainly to deal with the energy crisis. Thirdly, support on the demand side through regulatory and financial incentives will likely accelerate the modal shift to combined transport.

‘Strong dynamic’

Implementing the entire plan would increase combined transport traffic by 60 per cent by 2027 and take approximately an additional 450,000 trucks off the roads, reducing CO2 emissions by around 1 million tonnes.

The report concluded that the plan is designed “to create a strong dynamic to achieve the objectives set by the government for 2030, which will require, in a second phase, a more profound paradigm shift (in particular, a prioritisation of combined transport over passenger transport) and/or greater investments in the network’s capacity. For it to succeed, the state will have an essential role in providing impetus, coordination and funding. In particular, it must ensure that the other key stakeholder, SNCF Réseau, is fully mobilised.”


Author: Stuart Todd