Rail freight in the EU: Developing a tool for more sustainable transport

11-04-2017

In the early 20th century, rail was by far the most important mode for hauling goods across Europe. Since then, the freight market has undergone profound changes. In 2014, rail accounted for less than 12 % of all freight in the EU, while its main competitor, road haulage, achieved roughly a 50 % market share. This development entailed environmental concerns, road being considered more detrimental to the environment than rail. In the context of a predicted increase in freight transport, the EU has adopted a broad policy framework and a set of initiatives to promote more sustainable transport where rail freight plays an important role. These range from measures to improve the competitiveness, governance and technical compatibility of the rail sector in general, to specific provisions to support rail freight networks and services. The EU has also provided for a set of financing instruments and programmes. Today, experts seem to share a common understanding of the unsatisfactory performance of rail freight: regulatory and management issues, an uneven playing field and insufficient effectiveness of EU funding are among the main causes that are being discussed. At the same time, a consensus seems to have emerged on the need to increase rail freight in the EU. As a result, recommendations have been made to enhance and stabilise the regulatory environment; improve management and better adapt it to rail freight needs; make more consistent use of EU funds to improve the infrastructure; better exploit the potential of intermodal facilities; and monitor more closely the results achieved. Ongoing steps, such as rail projects at EU and national level and implementation of the EU regulatory framework, are already contributing to making rail freight a more customer-oriented and sustainable mode of transport.

In the early 20th century, rail was by far the most important mode for hauling goods across Europe. Since then, the freight market has undergone profound changes. In 2014, rail accounted for less than 12 % of all freight in the EU, while its main competitor, road haulage, achieved roughly a 50 % market share. This development entailed environmental concerns, road being considered more detrimental to the environment than rail. In the context of a predicted increase in freight transport, the EU has adopted a broad policy framework and a set of initiatives to promote more sustainable transport where rail freight plays an important role. These range from measures to improve the competitiveness, governance and technical compatibility of the rail sector in general, to specific provisions to support rail freight networks and services. The EU has also provided for a set of financing instruments and programmes. Today, experts seem to share a common understanding of the unsatisfactory performance of rail freight: regulatory and management issues, an uneven playing field and insufficient effectiveness of EU funding are among the main causes that are being discussed. At the same time, a consensus seems to have emerged on the need to increase rail freight in the EU. As a result, recommendations have been made to enhance and stabilise the regulatory environment; improve management and better adapt it to rail freight needs; make more consistent use of EU funds to improve the infrastructure; better exploit the potential of intermodal facilities; and monitor more closely the results achieved. Ongoing steps, such as rail projects at EU and national level and implementation of the EU regulatory framework, are already contributing to making rail freight a more customer-oriented and sustainable mode of transport.