Rhine-Alpine News


European Court of Auditors: Intermodal transport – EU still far from getting freight off the road

Image: logport I ©duisport_Hans Blossey

Image: logport I ©duisport_Hans Blossey

Long road ahead for EU intermodal freight transport: trains and barges currently cannot compete on equal grounds with trucks and lorries, says a report published by the European Court of Auditors (ECA). Efforts to move freight off the roads have not been effective in removing the regulatory and infrastructure barriers that penalise other modes of transport. These issues need to be addressed if the EU wants to achieve its green ambitions. A shift away from roads and an increased use of other modes of transport, such as rail or inland waterways, can play a key role in greening freight transport. To achieve this change, the EU provided over €1.1 billion to support intermodality projects between 2014 and 2020.

ECA points out in this report, that

  • The proportion of EU freight transported by road (about 77 %) is still on the rise
  • Some EU rules to promote other modes of transport are outdated or counterproductive
  • The European infrastructure network is not yet fit for intermodal transport

The auditors found that there was no dedicated EU strategy on intermodal freight transport. Intermodality is rather part of broader strategies on greening freight transport, which set specific quantitative targets for the increased use of rail and inland waterways. But since these targets are non-binding, the different EU countries set their own. These national targets are not necessarily comparable and aligned with the EU goals. It is therefore impossible to assess whether combined national efforts are enough to meet the EU’s overall modal shift objectives. In any case, the targets the EU set for 2030 and 2050 (ultimately doubling rail traffic and increasing waterway use by 50 %) are simply unrealistic, according to the auditors.

The auditors also argue that some EU rules inhibit the attractiveness of intermodal transport. The current version of the Combined Transport Directive is outdated (it dates back to 1992) and ineffective. For example, there is a requirement for a paper document stamped by the rail or port authorities throughout the journey, instead of a digitalised workflow.

The auditors also point out delays incurred by EU countries in ensuring the compliance of infrastructure with technical requirements set by EU law. For instance, using longer trains reaching the European standard-length of 740 metres would be one of the improvements with the highest cost-effectiveness in the effort to compete with road transport. Now, though, such trains can theoretically be operated on just half of the core Trans-European Network for Transport (TEN-T) corridors.

See the full press release of ECA here. The report is available for download here.

Replies of the European Commission to the ECA Special Report on Intermodal Transport

Image: Duisburger Hafen ©duisport_Hans Blossey

Image: Duisburger Hafen ©duisport_Hans Blossey

Even though there are no specific intermodal targets set at the European Union (EU) level, the Commission’s preferred approach is to base transport policy on a comprehensive strategy. The Commission adopted on 19 December 2020 the Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy which defines EU objectives and measures for transport policy with a view to transition to a climate-neutral Europe by 2050 and contribute to the European Green Deal.

The Commission agrees with the Court of Auditors’ analysis that at present there are information gaps as to existing intermodal terminals and the needs for future intermodal terminals. The ongoing revision of the TEN-T Regulation is expected to address these challenges. Additionally, the Commission plans to revise the Combined Transport Directive and the Weights and Dimensions Directive which aim to facilitate intermodal operations along with the new legislative proposal addressing the legal rules on rail infrastructure capacity and traffic management.

Read full response here.

AFIR: Provisional agreement for more recharging and refuelling stations across Europe

Source: Image by Gerd Altmann on Pixabay

Source: Image by Gerd Altmann on Pixabay

More recharging and refuelling stations for alternative fuels will be deployed in the coming years across Europe enabling the transport sector to significantly reduce its carbon footprint following the provisional political agreement between the Council and the European Parliament on 28 March 2023. The objective of the proposed alternative fuel infrastructure regulation (AFIR) is threefold:

  • to ensure that there is a sufficient infrastructure network for recharging or refuelling road vehicles or ships with alternative fuels
  • to provide alternative solutions so that vessels at berth and stationary aircraft do not need to keep their engines running
  • to achieve full interoperability throughout the EU and to make sure that the infrastructure is easy to use

The proposed regulation will play an important role in speeding up the deployment of this infrastructure so that the adoption of zero- and low-emission vehicles and ships will not be impeded, initiating a virtuous circle for the transport sector, and delivering on the targets of the European climate law.

The provisional political agreement is now subject to formal approval by the two co-legislators. On the Council’s side, the Swedish presidency intends to submit the text to the member states’ representatives (Coreper) as soon as possible with a view to its formal adoption by one of the upcoming Councils.

Source: https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2023/03/28/alternative-fuel-infrastructure-provisional-agreement-for-more-recharging-and-refuelling-stations-across-europe/


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