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32. Rail freight operators welcome corridor development
March 5th, 2008
A report on meetings between the EC, the Slovenian Ministry of Transport and European rail freight companies.

The European rail freight sector welcomes the support of the European Commission and the Slovenian EU Presidency for launching ministerial conferences on the development of rail freight corridors in Europe. Only concerted investment planning by all stakeholders along a corridor can efficiently provide the capacity increases which are vital in order to absorb the forecasted growth in freight transport over the next decade.

At the evening before their fifth summit on 27 February in Brussels, the CEOs and top executives of 35 European rail freight companies met with Boris Živec from the Slovenian Ministry of Transport, Members of the European Parliament and representatives of the Council of the European Union and the European Commission. They agreed that a major challenge is to upgrade main freight corridors to accommodate higher volumes and longer trains, so that rail freight can play its role in the solution to the CO2 reduction challenge. According to a recent analysis by the Community of European Railways and Infrastructure companies - CER on corridor development, investments of EUR 145 billion by 2020 could increase capacity by 72 %.

On the question of how the necessary funds can be raised on a national level, Dirk Stahl from Swiss operator BLS Cargo presented the Swiss model, where projects such as the Lötschberg tunnel or the Gotthard tunnel are financed by the Heavy Goods Vehicle charge. This charge reflects not only direct costs of building road infrastructure but also external costs such as pollution, congestion or accidents. Currently due to EU law, this model is not transferable to EU Member States. The impact of the Swiss model for society as a whole is very positive, as market share of the rail transport in the extremely sensitive ecological Alpine system is in Switzerland about four times as high as in France. Therefore, the CEOs urged the EU institutions to go for an ambitious revision of the Eurovignette Directive for that the external costs of transport can finally be internalised. Vice-President Jacques Barrot announced he is going to present a proposal for such a revision in June.

Whereas politicians need to take into account the environmental credentials of the different modes of transport and provide the legislative framework for rail transport to compete on equal terms with trucks, the rail freight companies on their side continue their efforts to increase efficiency and quality to attract customers. Therefore the CEOs also discussed progress on several projects which will in the future reduce costs and increase quality. Among these projects is the development of e-RailFreight, aiming at the exclusive use of electronic data records for international freight shipments, replacing the current paper documentation (consignment note and accompanying documents); a common standard for telematics application for rail freight; the development of a joint, high-quality single wagon load product throughout Europe; and the European harmonised train control system ERTMS which is now reaching the phase of implementation throughout Europe.

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