The Commission presented, on 18 October, a series of initiatives aimed at making the transport of goods by rail and shipping more attractive, in the hope of relieving Europe's increasingly congested roads.
- More efficient supply chains
The Freight Transport Logistics Action Plan places a key focus on measures to facilitate the use of several transport modes in one trip – so-called co-modality – notably by improving connections between the different modes, investing in modern trans-shipment hubs, establishing common European standards on loading units and creating a single transport document for all carriage of goods, irrespective of the mode.
- A helping hand for railways
The Commission's Communication on a Freight-Oriented Railway Network proposes giving Europe's declining rail sector a much-needed boost, by tackling a number of efficiency, reliability and competitiveness problems.
Key measures will include harmonisation of train lengths and loads to increase inter-operability between member states and avoid freight trains being stopped and delayed at borders due to member states' differing standards.
The Commission also wants to put an end to an existing priority given to passenger trains on lines with mixed traffic when networks are congested, in the hope of reducing freight train delays and increasing the reliability of deliveries.
It hopes that such measures, along with increased cooperation among member states and infrastructure managers, will help to achieve veritable "freight-oriented corridors", with reduced transport times and an increased punctuality thus more apt to compete with road transport, especially for heavy loads and long distances.
According to the Commission's plan, each member state should be involved in at least one such corridor structure by 2012.
- Creating a single maritime transport area
Shipping – the most environment friendly and energy-efficient mode – also receives particular attention, with plans to increase capacity at seaports and create a genuine "European maritime transport area" by eliminating some of the lengthy administrative procedures, including documentary checks and physical inspections by customs, health, veterinary and immigration control officials, that continue to apply to shipments between European ports, in the same way they do for shipments to third countries. A public consultation on this will be launched on 22 OCtober 2007.
- Allowing 'monster trucks'?
The Commission's Logistics Action Plan also suggests "assessing the need to review the current limitations of road vehicle weights and dimensions", a move that could open roads to 25-metre long, 60 tonne 'modular trucks' that are currently banned in most member states.
While some say such trucks would enable road transport operators to carry larger volumes without increasing the number of trips, rail operators fear they will drive the price of road transport down even further, generating unsustainable demand (EurActiv 23/07/07).