Over the past ten years, rail freight transport has lost ground to road haulage, with its market share in inland transport dropping from nearly 20% in 1995 to 16.5% in 2005, notably due to a lack of efficiency, reliability and competitiveness in the sector.
A Commission communication, due on 17 October, will contain a series of proposals aimed at tackling these deficiencies in order to make the 'greener' rail sector more attractive.
Among the proposed actions are expected to figure a series of technical measures aimed at enhancing interoperability, such as the harmonisation of train lengths and sizes. Indeed, currently, freight trains are still frequently stopped and delayed at borders due to member states' differing rules and standards.
The Commission is also expected 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.
The Communication should be accompanied by an action plan aimed at improving connections between the rail sector and road, maritime, inland waterway and air transport, in order to create a "seamless European transport system".
Actions will include the establishment of common European standards on loading units for all transport modes as well as measures to stimulate the development of smart technologies and investment in transshipment hubs.
The Commission says it hopes the package will allow European businesses to cut costs and foster economic growth, while also tackling increasing transport-related problems such as pollution, congestion and energy dependence.