24 September 2001 00:00 [Source: ICB]
A revival of goods transported by rail in Europe is a major objective of the European Commission's transport policy for the next decade. But, it warns, 'we need a cultural revolution to make rail competitive again'. It argues best use is not being made of rail infrastructure and that service quality needs to improve.
###10433###In its much delayed White Paper - European Transport Policy for 2010 - issued last week, the EC says it is important 'to revitalise the railways...and shift the balance between the modes of transport'. The Paper predicts that economic growth in the European Union will raise goods transportation by 38% between 1998 and 2010, and that if nothing is done, this will increase heavy goods traffic on the roads by 50%.
Rail is widely regarded as the one transport mode that has failed to meet the demands of growth in goods transport, creating growing frustration within the chemicals sector. Cefic and other industry bodies have been lobbying for improved service, pricing transparency and more competitiveness in the rail freight market for years, points out Frank Otten, head of Cefic's rail group.
Rail's share of goods transport has slumped from 21% in 1970 to a present figure of just 8%, and according to the Commission, 20% of the rail network, some 16 000km, is congested. Some 600km of track has been closed each year on average. Road and sea transport, in contrast, have seen spectacular growth (see diagram).
The Commission proposes some 60 specific measures to improve Europe's transport system, in terms both of quality and efficiency. Its strategy, it claims, is designed 'to break gradually the link between constant transport growth and economic growth, to reduce the pressure on the environment, and prevent congestion while maintaining the EU's economic competitiveness.
Two major initiatives are planned specifically involving rail. The Commission is establishing a E30m/year ($28m) fund towards the Pilot Action for Combined Transport's (PACT) replacement programme Marco Polo, to promote intermodality and 'to encourage the linking up of the different modes and promote rail, maritime and inland waterway transport'. It is also pressing on with its trans-European networks initiatives 'with genuine potential for transferring goods from road to rail'. In particular, this includes a large capacity rail link across the Pyrenees.
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