State-of-the-art in the pan-European Railway MarketRail transport has not matched the growth in freight transport in Europe. While the total freight transport grew by 18% from 1995 to 2002, the rail transport grew only by 6%.
Although the rail market liberalisation shows good progress, rail performance does not demonstrate sizable improvement. In 1970 the railways carried 21% of all freight in the fifteen countries of the present European Union. The rail market share has fallen from 8.4% in 1995 to 7.7%. in 2002. Over the same period the proportion of freight shipped by road rose from 30.8% to 43.8%. This shows that rail freight transport is the only mode which encountered considerable market setback, while the all others increased their performance.
An uncompetitive service?
The main reason for this state is that railways are not as competitive as road haulage. Railway transport is less reliable than road haulage as regards delivery times. On some international routes, delivery times have even doubled or trebled in recent years. This is due mainly to very long stops en route, because other trains (passenger services especially) have priority, and because procedures at borders are complicated and time-consuming. It takes barely a few hours to set up a contract with a road haulier, while organisation of rail operations is more complicated in terms of formalities and procedures, and take much longer. Both road and rail, provide door-to-door services, though the significant decrease of private sidings for rail transport has given road transport a competitive advantage over rail. All these freight supply qualities are critical for industries which work on tight schedules and deliver according to "just-in-time" requirements.
Unique advantages of rail freight transport
And yet, the railways have unique advantages: they are a safe and clean mode of conveyance and offer large load carrying capacity; one train unit may carry as many as 50-60 truckloads. Their infrastructure covers a lot of territory and is generally in a good state. Also, in combined transport the European railway operators have created a previously non-existent market. Intermodal Transport now represents around 25 percent of the freight activities, and much more on specific corridors. Revitalising the railways is thus a top priority of the European Union's Common Transport Policy. The new Rail legislation seeks to create market and operational conditions under which rail transport can once again be efficient and competitive, particularly for transfer of freight.
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