EU initiatives to better integrate and improve connectivity between road, rail and waterways have failed to yield any significant results, according to the latest Eurostat data on freight transport.
In 2012, 74,5% of freight travelled by road in the EU28, a level that “has remained almost unchanged since 2007,” according to a report released on 1 October.
Shares of rail (18.6%) and inland waterways (6.9%) in freight transport also barely budged over the period.
Road transport had a share of over 90% of freight in Cyprus, Malta, Ireland, Greece and Spain, while rail dominated in the Baltic states. Ten European member states, including Malta and Portugal, do not utilise or have inland waterways.
Within the EU28, Romania appears to have achieved the best balance between the various modes of transport, with roads, rail and inland waterways each representing about one third of freight.
The data suggests that longstanding EU efforts to improve intermodality, or the use of “at least two different transport modes in an integrated manner”, have yielded little results.
Over the years, the EU sent mixed signals, however, about its determination to support greener modes of transport.
A trio of solutions
Speaking on behalf of the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER), Executive Director Libor Lochman told EURACTIV that he was not surprised by the lack of progress.
Insufficient investments in infrastructure, including maintenance and upgrades and the building the “last miles” between rail networks and freight customers (factories, etc.) and of intermodal terminals, are insufficient.
For example, the quality of some tracks in Eastern Europe is poor, whereas tracks that ensure punctual, reliable transport are key for competitiveness with other modes of transport, Lochman explained.
On the positive side, he noted that CEF granted an almost equal share of funding for road and rail projects.
Another barrier to rail development is the patchwork of national administrative rules that complicate cross-border travel and increase the cost of rail freight. The gradual adoption of EU technical specification rules should eventually remove that obstacle, however.
A third reason for the status quo stems from the need to level the playing field between road and rail. Distance-based charging, and the integration of external expenses such as pollution costs, are currently not applied to road transport. These measures, which were already envisaged in the 2001 white paper, could be the subject of EU regulation, according to the trade body.
“The opening of the rail market to competition has already happened, but it will not deliver unless these three barriers are removed,” the CER Executive Director concluded.
Talking to EURACTIV, NGO Transport & Environment (T&E) had a similar reaction to the Eurostat report: “road freight continues to have an unfair competitive advantage in that it does not pay fully for its external costs. Damage to roads, air pollution, congestion and noise cost Europeans over €150 billion a year. If we want rail ever to have a fair chance, road freight’s external costs must be fully internalised in the EU”.
But “that’s just one side of the coin”, added the NGO, “rail freight should also become more efficient and competitive itself.” T&E believes that despite market liberalization, national rail monopolies continue to shield their markets and numerous technical obstacles hamper cross-border freight.