Rail Forum Europe seeks innovative options for more attractive rail freight

Posted: 21 June 2012 | | 1 comment

Members of the European Parliament and railway stakeholders gathered on 19 June…

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Members of the European Parliament and railway stakeholders gathered on 19 June at the European Parliament in Brussels to discuss innovative ways to foster the development of rail freight transport across Europe. Participants agreed that a more forward-thinking and business-oriented approach as well as the revision of EU pieces of legislation, such as the 1st Railway Package and the TEN-T guidelines, would help making European rail freight more attractive.

Opening the debate, Jean-Eric Paquet (Director on European Mobility Network at DG Move), highlighted the potential positive impact of the recast of the 1st Railway Package and the revision of the TEN-T guidelines on rail freight operations. Furthermore, “the implementation of the Regulation on the European Rail Network for Competitive Freight will help operators getting cross-border slots and by means of increased interoperability” he said. Additional boost to the sector will come from a “systematic development of ERTMS” and a pragmatic approach to the upcoming 4th Railway Package, in particular by shortening the procedures for cross-border vehicle authorisation.

In addition to EU legislative initiatives, rail stakeholders will have to play an important role in innovation as well. In this respect, Mr. Paquet concluded: “DG MOVE welcomes the Joint Technology Initiative SHIFT2RAIL being developed by the European rail industry, which includes an innovation programme on sustainable rail freight”.

Jacques Koch, General Manager for procurement and supply of Ancelor Mittal, described freight transport issues from a steel company’s perspective. Cost competitiveness, reliability, flexibility and sustainability are the main priorities. Comparing different transport alternatives, he concluded that “reliable rail single wagon traffic is fundamental to meet users’ needs and expectations”.

Alexander Hedderich, CEO of DB Schenker Rail, outlined the challenges of the European single wagonload, in terms of cost structure and competition.

“Single wagonload is and will be the backbone of DB Schenker Rail’s production system. However, significant cost increases in rail cargo transportation endanger the intermodal competitiveness of rail operators” he said.

Fernand Rippinger, CEO of CFL Cargo, highlighted the benefits of being member of the Xrail alliance for wagonload traffic. He stated: “For a small railway undertaking from a small country, Xrail offers increased reliability, better delivery control and transparency”.

Ferdinand Schmidt, CEO of ÖBB Production and Chairman of Xrail, described the situation in Austria where rail freight has a modal share of about 36%, half of which through single wagonload. In order to maintain or even improve this performance, he called on European decision makers “to level the regulatory playing field between modes of transport, including for example, the full internalisation of external costs”.

In the debate that followed, participants exchanged views on how to effectively address the issues affecting rail freight in Europe.

Gesine Meissner, Member of the EP’s Transport Committee and Rail Forum Europe Board Member wondered how fair competition could be assured on single wagonload traffic.

Tony Berkeley, chairman of the Rail Freight Group UK, stressed the need for proper competition and highlighted the risk that Xrail could become a European monopoly.

Alexander Hedderich replied that it is difficult to multiply the single wagonload system; therefore this may give the impression of a European monopoly. Anyways it should be clear that road is the true competitor and intra-modal competition is therefore beneficial for the rail sector.

Michael Cramer, Member of the EP’s Transport Committee and Rail Forum Europe Board Member highlighted the potential negative effects on rail freight from the introduction of megatrucks.

Libor Lochman, Executive Director of CER, agreed on the need to ensure fair intermodal competition and mentioned the recast of the 1st Railway Package, the TEN-T revision and the Connecting Europe Facility as legislative tools to solve this issue.

Brian Simpson, Chairman of the EP’s Transport Committee and Rail Forum Europe President, concluded the debate by inviting railway stakeholders to address their concerns to Council and National Governments, which are usually reluctant to take action towards fair intermodal competition. “We know the problems. Now it is time to find solutions” he said.