Brussels, 19 September – Rail freight is currently performing at a level lower than should be expected despite its obvious environmental benefits, and also having been highlighted in the Transport White Paper of 2011. Rail Forum Europe Members and rail stakeholders discussed on how to overcome the current difficulties and promote modal shift to rail at a dinner event on “European modal shift policy - political will and reality” held on 17 September in the European Parliament in Brussels, sponsored by BLS. Internal market, innovation and infrastructure are the fundamental issues that need to be addressed in order to make rail freight more competitive.
Bernard Guillelmon, CEO of BLS, made a broad overview on the issues at stake in the rail freight business. He highlighted that the current situation is very unbalanced as there are many cost drivers and very little revenue. This results in an unsatisfactory rail freight market share of around 6% in the EU. He mentioned the rail freight corridors regulation, the SHIFT²RAIL initiative, the review of the TEN-T programme and a mandatory provision for the Eurovignette Directive in the EU as possible ways to counteract the current negative trend. Moreover he called on EU decision makers to act for the benefit of the system and not for the benefit of the incumbents. “In Switzerland there is a clear political will to promote modal shift from road to rail. The EU should follow the Swiss example” he concluded.
Michael Cramer, MEP and Rail Forum Europe Vice-President analysed the issue from an economic and environmental perspective, focussing on unfair intermodal competition. He said that a fundamental change is needed for our mobility in order to stop climate change, remarking that mobility is too cheap in Europe, whereas sustainable transport is too expensive. He explained that this is due to the lack of political will in addressing current inequalities in terms of charging, taxation and funding. Rail is suffering a lot from this situation, therefore the rail market share keeps declining and emissions keep going up. “In Europe we have a wonderful framework for modal shift, but in the wrong direction” he stated.
Jean-Eric Paquet, Director for European Mobility Network of DG MOVE, pointed out that rail has been at the heart of the European transport policy in the past few years. In this respect, he mentioned a number of initiatives aimed at making rail more competitive such as the recast of the first railway package, the fourth railway package, the TEN-T review, the rail freight corridors regulation and the ongoing work on the SHIFT²RAIL initiative. However rail freight is still not delivering and a lot of work is needed. “Until now there has been too little innovation in rail, which is a very complex and fragmented system. In order to make rail more competitive we should stop having the status quo as our strategic horizon” he said.
Malcolm Harbour CBE MEP and Rail Forum Europe Member, stressed that rail should respond to the need for efficient delivery especially for online customers. In order to do so, the top priority should be a better exploitation of existing hub assets all over Europe.
Alberto Mazzola (FSI, Italian Railways) cited his company as a good example of an incumbent that is performing well in terms of efficiency. “The Commission should also perform better in its decision making process” he added.
Miroslav Haltuf (Oltis Group) stressed the need for a well-functioning regulatory and political framework and called on BLS to actively join the SHIFT²RAIL initiative.
Gesine Meissner, MEP and Rail Forum Europe Vice-Chairwoman, agreed that more rail is needed in the current transport system. However, she questioned the concept of modal shift. “We want more rail but we also need good solutions for other modes. Therefore the concept of intermodality is probably more appropriate” she said.
Brian Simpson, Rail Forum Europe President and Chairman of the European Parliament’s Transport Committee, commented that indeed freight is the most worrying segment of the rail business. “In order to solve these issues both decision makers and rail stakeholders must become more efficient. We should stop talking and get things done” he concluded.