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EU not effective in enhancing rail freight transport, ECA report shows

EU had not been effective in enhancing rail freight transport though rail freight has been a key part of EU policy for the last 25 years, shows a special report carried out by the European Court of Auditors (ECA).

According to the document, rail freight transport in the EU has failed over the last 15 years to respond effectively to the competition presented by road transport. Shippers show a clear preference for road compared to rail for the transport of goods. As a result, and despite the EU’s policy objectives of shifting goods from roads to rail, the rail freight transport performance in the EU is persistently unsatisfactory in terms of modal share and volumes transported, although some Member States have managed to improve their performance. The strategic and regulatory issues identified in this report are of such nature that, if not addressed, extra funding for rail infrastructure will not by itself resolve the problems identified and increase the competitiveness of rail freight transport.

The Court concludes that the performance of rail freight transport in the EU is not satisfactory. The Court recommends that the Commission and the Member States should improve the strategic and regulatory framework under which the transport of goods by rail is carried out. In order to achieve this, the Commission and the Member States, should take the following action:

  • ensure that the national regulatory bodies possess, and can actually exercise, the necessary powers, independence and resources to carry out the tasks assigned to them, in particular to prevent, together with competition authorities, anti-competitive practices being committed by infrastructure managers and incumbent railway undertakings.
  • initiate the adaptation, in particular in rail freight corridors, of the traffic management rules applied by infrastructure managers to the specific needs of the rail freight sector. This regards, for example, the timetable for path allocation and the number and the quality of the paths on offer.
  • initiate the harmonisation of the rules and procedures governing various rail freight corridors to facilitate rail freight operations across Europe, as well as considering how a consistent approach to path allocation could best be ensured across the whole rail network.
  • simplify and harmonise the procedures for vehicle approval and for issuing safety certificates to railway undertakings. This would be helped by a rapid adoption of the fourth railway package (which involves enhancing the position of the European Railways Agency) by the Parliament and the Council and its proper implementation.
  • assess the possibility of progressively simplifying language requirements for locomotive drivers to make medium- and long-distance rail freight traffic in the EU easier and more competitive.
  • monitor progress made towards achieving the 2011 Transport White Paper targets for shifting goods from road to rail. In view of the long planning horizons in rail sector (going up to 2050), intermediate targets should also be set in future policy papers.
  • evaluate the satisfaction level of rail freight operators, shippers and other users of the entire rail network to promote good quality service for the users of the rail network.
  • take the necessary steps to ensure that Member States effectively participate in the Railway Market Monitoring Scheme (RMMS) and should initiate the harmonisation of quality and performance monitoring across rail freight corridors.
  • promote a level playing field between the different methods of transport by introducing additional regulatory and/or other measures to support rail freight traffic when necessary. As regards the cost of accessing infrastructure, consideration should be given to externalities such as environmental impacts, congestion or the number of accidents produced by each method of transport.

In addition to improving the regulatory and strategic framework, enhancing rail freight transport competitiveness requires a rail network adapted to specific rail freight needs, which entails making the best possible use of the available funding, report says. The examined co-financed rail infrastructure projects had delivered their expected outputs, but in general had not yet resulted in an increase in rail freight transport performance in terms of tonnes of goods transported by rail.

Read full report 

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