18. March 2016

“Europe: no progress on shifting freight to rail

European Environment Agency: rail freight’s market share is stagnating

Long-distance transportation belongs on the railways, with shorter journeys being made by HGV: at least in theory.

Berlin, March 18, 2016. Following up on the Paris summit on climate change, the chairman of the European parliament’s transport committee, Michael Cramer, has assessed as “unsatisfactory” the efforts being made in various EU countries to affect a modal shift in transport. “Shifting freight from the roads to the railways has been the foremost goal in many European countries and in the European Union. However, the reality of the situation looks completely different,” said Cramer on Friday at a joint press conference held by the German Pro-Rail Alliance and the Network of European Railways NEE. “Whereas the market share of the climate friendly railways is stagnating across Europe, countless numbers of heavy goods vehicles making long-distance journeys are causing congestion on the motorways.” The fact that Germany, the main transit county, is experimenting with longer HGVs and at the same time imposes high taxes on rail freight operators, is in stark contrast with the ambitious targets set out in the EU Whitebook on transport, explained Cramer, who said that Switzerland’s successful freight transport policies were a good example.

Ever increasing number of HGVs on our roads

“Germany’s fossilised transport policies are still stuck firmly in the past,” said Dirk Flege, managing director of the Pro-Rail Alliance. “Whereas other sectors of the economy – industry, processing businesses, energy production – have considerably reduced emissions harmful to the climate since 1990, Germany’s transport sector has not achieved any reduction during the last 25 years”. Flege criticised the fact that by creating an abundance of competitive advantages for road freight transport, the federal government has thwarted its own targets on shifting freight to the railways, which has cross-party support. “Car drivers are asking themselves why there are so many HGVs on the roads, even though the current coalition agreement also promises less congestion on the roads,” said Flege. He pointed out that only recently, in early 2015, the federal transport minister massively reduced road charges on HGVs. “The fact that rail freight transport has even managed to defend its market share, in spite of the devastating competitive conditions, testifies to a remarkable performance by the rail freight operators,” said Flege. He called on politicians to come up with concrete measures to strengthen the railways’ competitiveness. “Above all, cutting the tax on electricity would be a useful instrument that could be implemented quickly to alleviate the latest burden on the railways – the increase in the EEG green energy levies.”

“Federal government should keep to its targets on modal shift”

The managing director of the Network of European Railways NEE, Peter Westenberger, also called on politicians to create an overall strategy to enable them to deliver on their promise on modal shift. In a letter sent the same day to the relevant members of the government, the association of competing rail operators criticised deliberations, which had recently come to light, to drop the only concrete government target on modal shift. As part of its ‘national sustainability strategy’, the government decided in 2002 to increase rail freight transport’s market share to 25 percent by 2015. The latest figures for 2015 show that market share was only just over 17 percent. “It would be a declaration of political bankruptcy to simply scrap the missed target instead of finally implementing the necessary measures that will ensure that it is successfully met.” Concrete targets for 2030 and 2050 must now be brought into line with existing EU targets on transport and climate protection, said Westenberger. “Germany also wants its transport sector to have a neutral greenhouse gas balance by 2050. Without a massive expansion of rail freight transport, that will prove impossible.” In contrast, politicians will be ill advised to rely on fantasy concepts such as high mileage electric HGVs or bio-fuel motorisation. Such technologies are cost-prohibitive and inefficient but could block the long-overdue policy changes that are necessary for expanding rail freight transport.


Additional information (German):


Video: Longer vehicles – a horror vision for Germany (4:46 min, German)