Poor infrastructure stops France from exploiting alternatives to fuel-guzzling cars, trucks

During a public hearing held by the Senate's committee, Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari acknowledged that "goods are not transiting by rail, because the connections to the major multimodal exchange centres, particularly the ports, are poorly implemented", due to "chronic under-investment".  [Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock]

Although 90% of all goods in France are transported by road compared to the EU average of 75%, more eco-friendly alternatives, like rail and river transport, cannot fully be exploited due to the poor infrastructure currently in place. EURACTIV France reports.

In a report on the environmental impact of freight transport adopted on 21 May, the French Senate’s committee on spatial planning and sustainable development noted that road transport for people and goods accounts for 31% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, making it the largest CO2 emitting sector in France.

Heavy goods vehicles, in particular, which are estimated to be responsible for 20% of these emissions, generate nine times more CO2 than trains and five times more than barges with containers.

To strengthen the competitiveness of the rail and river networks, support for the “regeneration and development of rail and river networks is essential”, according to the report’s rapporteurs, Les Républicains Senator Rémy Pointereau (LR) and Senator Nicole Bonnefoy of the Socialists, Ecologists and Republicans party.

Poor infrastructure 

Though this appears to be a reasonable solution, France’s port and rail infrastructures are in a critical state.

During a public hearing held by the Senate’s committee, Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari acknowledged that “goods are not transiting by rail, because the connections to the major multimodal exchange centres, particularly the ports, are poorly implemented”, due to “chronic under-investment”.

To compensate for the lack of equipment, “€5 billion from the recovery plan has been allocated to the railways”, the minister said.

However, between the growth of the high-speed train (TGV), the extension of timetables and the rehabilitation of the rails, the rail network is “a network that suffers”, with the many construction sites at night “reducing the availability of train paths, until 2023 at least”, he warned.

France appears to have abandoned the transport of goods by train or by boat in favour of road transport with both sectors paling in comparison to other EU countries – the European average for railway use is 18% and 5.5% for waterways, while France’s figures are 9% and 2.3% respectively.

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Euro 7

The European Commission has also made reducing carbon emissions from road transport one of its priorities under the European Green Deal and has recently proposed stricter emissions rules on cars, vans, trucks and buses, known as “Euro 7” standards.

The discussions are already a source of worry among car manufacturers, who have called the standards a “de facto ban” on the internal combustion engine.

In February, French car manufacturer association CCFA told EURACTIV it was concerned about the Euro 7 standards and is hoping for changes before the final version is published. The European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) criticised the lack of concrete guarantees on the technical realisation of the future standards.

The 40 proposals put forward by the Senate’s regional planning and sustainable development will be studied by the Senate during its vote on the Climate and Resilience Bill in July.

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[Edited by Sean Goulding Carroll/Zoran Radosavljevic]

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