2021, the European Year of Rail Freight too…
Mid-December 2020, during its plenary session, the European Parliament sent a strong signal through the adoption of 2021 as the European Year of Rail. The European Year of Rail will support the European Commission’s “Climate Law” which proposes setting a binding target of reaching net-zero carbon by 2050.
FEPORT, as many other sister organizations who believe in the capacity of rail to contribute to Europe’s economic and climate related goals, welcomes this decision and hopes that the European Year of Rail will be a real occasion to finally deliver a legal framework that also meets the needs of all rail supporters. Many of them do indeed consider that rail freight must improve its modal share to significantly reduce freight transport emissions. Yet, the realization of the global objective requires that other freight transport emissions are addressed as well.
Achieving a balanced modal shift through an increase of rail freight should remain a priority for the Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy. The Strategy sets out a clear objective of increasing rail freight volumes by 50% by 2030 and doubling rail freight volumes by 2050. This will be possible if and only if some essential legislative revisions take place, if legislators and Member States remain ambitious and if national regulators are also concretely supportive of the above-mentioned objectives.
The recent COVID-19 pandemic, and the subsequent availability of infrastructure capacity due to low demand for rail passenger transport, has shown that when rail freight has access to a good quantity and quality of capacity, it can provide a reliable and customer orientated service. This positive contribution needs to be encouraged in the framework of the Year of Rail’s related upcoming legislation.
There is urgency to move from an acknowledgement of the advantages of rail to discussing how cargo and goods can be successfully moved to rail.
What is needed now is to discuss with all public and private stakeholders, how rail freight can become a sustainable alternative and what needs to become more attractive to users. It is also crucial to keep in mind that rail tracks can also connect EU ports to the hinterland and that private port companies and terminals are ready to propose and invest in rail solutions provided that the legal framework sets clear and attractive rules.
FEPORT members are strong supporters of green intermodal solutions connecting ports to the hinterland. They are therefore in favour of a regulatory framework for rail freight which concretely considers the diversity of operators which propose rail freight services.
The Year of Rail must reflect the diversity of the European rail freight industry and the expectations of rail users. Non-incumbent operators who account for, on average, 31% of European rail freight national markets have played a crucial role during the COVID-19 pandemic. They have kept supply chains operational and produced significant efforts to increase the rail freight market share.
FEPORT welcomes the inclusion in the Smart and Sustainable Mobility Strategy of a revision of the Rail Freight Corridors Regulation and the TEN-T Regulation as these two Regulations need to be addressed together given their mutual importance to one another. It will be essential to address the issue of capacity management during the impact assessment of the Rail Freight Corridors Regulation. The revision must also introduce clear rights for rail freight when operating on the corridors. For instance, legislation should guarantee that when a freight train is respecting its schedule, its operations should not be disturbed to accommodate other types of traffic. Rail freight can only perform seamlessly across borders if rights are defined at international level. This will be a crucial success factor leading to an increase of rail freight volumes by 50% by 2030.
FEPORT believes that if the set of rules applying to environmentally friendly modes such as rail become “real incentives” for modal shift then this will have cascading positive effects on cargo velocity and the reduction of emissions in ports. Therefore, FEPORT calls on regulators to keep in mind the necessity to adopt more “business friendly” pieces of legislation which do not impose cumbersome administrative requirements that discourage private port companies and terminals from investing into rail services.