Ministers reiterate support for green railway transport

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EU transport ministers yesterday (11 June) paved the way to make rail freight transportation more attractive, as a way of reducing pollution and traffic on European roads.

The Council reached political agreement on a draft EU regulation aimed at taking more commercial freight off European roads by making rail freight a more attractive option for commercial operators. By laying down rules on the establishment and organisation of international rail corridors, it is hoped that the new regulation will help to reduce delays and transportation time across the rail freight network. 

The shift towards rail is part of the European Commission’s strategy to make freight transport in the EU more efficient and sustainable (EURACTIV 19/10/07). At the moment, a majority of goods are carried on Europe’s roads, but rail provides a cleaner alternative, and along with water transport is the EU’s preferred freight transport mode. 

Some member states raised concerns at the Council meeting that “capacity reservation” for freight trains may have a negative impact on passenger rail services. However, governments reached a compromise to “simultaneously ensure that the need for capacity of other types of transport should be recognised”. 

According to Czech Transport Minister Gustav Slamecka, the Council “succeeded in ensuring that the development of corridors for freight does not have any negative impact on personal transport”. 

On the basis of the political agreement, the Council will prepare its common position that will be forwarded to the European Parliament for second reading under the co-decision procedure. 

Trans-European transport networks

The Council issued an opinion on the Commission’s TEN-T green paper. Published last February, the paper outlines the future of the EU’s transport policy. 

Emphasising the need to make transport greener and more efficient, ministers underscored that TEN-T policy should contribute “significantly” to climate change and environmental objectives. In particular, the Council noted that the concept of co-modality needs to be better integrated into TEN-T policy, referring to the practice of using a combination of transport modes to optimise infrastructure use. 

Financing TEN-T in the economic downturn will require a renewed approach to funding, with member states calling on “the Community to make available the financial resources necessary to stimulate investment in TEN-T projects”. The ministers’ conclusions support the creation of new instruments, and advocate further development of public-private partnerships. 

Europe's independent rail infrastructure managers (EIM) and the European rail supply industry (UNIFE) welcomed the ministers' conclusions on the TEN-T Policy Review. In a joint statement, they applauded the reconfirmation of member states' commitment to the financing and implementation of TEN-T projects and their request for adequate Community financing. 

However, EIM and UNIFE expressed concern over the outcome of the discussions on the proposed regulation on a competitive rail freight network. 

Michael Clausecker, director-general of UNIFE, said: "For TEN-T, the needs of [...] priority projects such as sufficient funding were taken into account. Unfortunately for the freight corridors, political rather than business considerations prevailed." 

"Transport ministers lacked ambition in granting certain effective priority to freight trains, both in timetable definition and traffic management," while "the addition of an executive board composed of member states' representatives to the governing bodies of corridors will also result in a more bureaucratic administrative structure for the management of freight traffic in Europe," read the joint statement.

Michael Robson, secretary-general of EIM, said: "By making corridor management more cumbersome and by denying access to new market players, transport ministers have missed an important opportunity to boost rail freight demand."

In October 2007, the European Commission presented an initiative aimed at making the transportation of goods by rail more attractive (EURACTIV 19/10/07). The Communication on a Freight-Oriented Railway Network aims to boost Europe's declining rail sector by tackling efficiency, reliability and competitiveness problems. 

Measures proposed include harmonisation of train lengths and loads to increase inter-operability and prevent freight trains from being stopped and delayed at borders as a result of different national standards. 

Earlier this year, the Commission also launched a green paper on the 'Trans-European Network – Transport' (TEN-T), which aims to build an efficient single transport network in Europe by focusing on developing key transport routes. Previously, transport decisions made at national level made no attempt to integrate European-level planning into decisions. TEN-T tries to rectify that by creating a pan-European transport network. 

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