Hendrik Abma, executive director of European Rail Infrastructure Managers, looks into the future of rail and its contribution to the sustainable transport system in Europe
An efficient and competitive transport system is an essential starting base for creating jobs and wealth, moving goods to where they are needed and bringing people together.
In the last two decades a number of policies on the European level were aimed at boosting competition and a more balanced use of all of the modes of transport. Despite of all these efforts the development of transport has not been balanced and the market is also not functioning properly as a majority of EU member states have failed to implement the rail related directives.
With road and air transport growing significantly, the railway sector weakened in the 1990s. This trend has been turned in the last decade. The steep decline of both freight and passenger stopped and in some countries market share of rail started to grow again mainly thanks to the development of high speed rail.
According to a recent analysis total rail productivity, in relation to quantity and quality of services, increased by 39 per cent between 1990 and 2005. This was achieved essentially thanks to a number of developments in the rail sector, such as opening up of rail market in the EU, the introduction of common safety rules and standards and the improvement of interoperability between national railway networks.
European Rail Infrastructure Managers (EIM) have played a major role in this development, building new tracks, maintaining the existing and enhancing new technologies to increase efficiency and safety. EIM represents rail infrastructure companies from 11 European countries: their lines cover 50 per cent of the EU and EFTA market, carry 62 per cent passengers and 39 per cent of rail freight.
With the growing demand for transport, increasing climate change concerns and the recent economic crisis, new challenges have arisen in the world of transport: economic efficiency, environmental sustainability, and customer service quality and safety.
Rail is the right answer to meet these challenges.
In order to allow rail to exploit its potential a new policy framework needs to be developed. It is essential that these challenges are properly addressed on the Europe wide level as people expect seamless, efficient and safe transport links across the continent.
The European Commission has therefore been drafting a long term policy document to shape a sustainable future for European transport.
The new Transport White Paper is seen as a road map for the development of transport in the next decade. It will take a global look at the developments in the transport sector, its future challenges and the policy initiatives that need to be considered.
It is not the first attempt of this kind. The Commission published its first white paper on the common transport policy in 1992 and it was essentially dedicated to the market opening. Almost ten years later, in 2001, a second white paper was adopted with a subtitle ‘Time to decide’ that had a strong emphasis on the modal shift to achieve a more balanced use of all transport modes.
In 2006 the mid-term review of the White Paper promoted the “co-modality” concept, i.e. the use of different modes on their own and in combination aiming to obtain an optimal and sustainable utilisation of resources.
In June 2009 the European Commission’s DG TREN launched a Communication on the Future of Transport. The communication identified a number of challenges for the transport sector in the years to come, such as globalisation, ageing population, migration, urbanisation, fossil fuel scarcity and environmental challenges.
The next white paper is supposed to take on the challenge of promoting a deep transformation of transport, seeking independence from oil, the creation of more modern infrastructure and a different concept of mobility assisted by timely and complete information.
The challenges are enormous. According to the EU’s forecasts, total passenger transport activity is expected to grow by 34 per cent between 2005 and 2030 in a “no-policy change” scenario, equivalent to an average growth of 1.2 per cent per year. However, growth is not distributed proportionally among transport modes, with air transport activity almost doubling by 2030. The weaker growth in passenger transport compared to GDP per capita (1.4 per cent per year) is explained by the passenger car activity that in some EU-15 Members States is close to saturation levels.
Rail competes with both road and air, but the results on its performance differ considerably between 15 old and more developed EU members and 12 newer mostly post-communist members. In EU-15, given the expected saturation of passenger car demand, a large share of potential demand is covered by (high speed in most cases) rail, at least in the Member States where investments in rail are foreseen. At the same time, high speed rail attracts traffic from air transport.
In EU-12, however, rail may worsen its competitive position against air transport and road, and is expected to grow slower than the other two main modes. After 2030 the slight decline in population combined with a slowdown in GDP growth and the saturation of passenger car demand will lead to somewhat lower growth rates in overall passenger transport activity.
Generally speaking, road transport is expected to maintain its dominant role in both passenger and freight transport. Air and rail would grow significantly but still represent a small share of overall transport demand. It is expected that rail would improve its share moderately, gaining less than 1 percentage point by 2050, up to 8 per cent of passenger transport. Road transport would maintain its dominant role in freight transport, contributing 73 per cent in 2030, followed by rail (with 17 per cent).
Fulfilling a vision
Despite this moderate growth the DG TREN’s Communication shares the view that rail will play a key role in the future of transport policy.
The new Transport White Paper is meant to fulfil this vision. It is expected to be divided into three chapters. The first chapter will take a look at developments in the recent past and evaluate them in relation to the objectives set out by previous white paper. The section on evaluation is followed by a description of how transport could evolve up to 2050 if new policies did not intervene to modify the trends.
The second part will set out the goals and vision. It should describe some broad objectives for EU transport policy and clarify what are the likely limits on emissions that transport will have to respect in the future, and try to identify a plausible and desirable way for the transport system to meet its challenges and to deliver better mobility services to citizens and businesses.
Finally, part three is the operational section of the white paper. It is expected to describe those initiatives that need to be taken into consideration in the next ten years to put the transport sector on a sustainable path and bridge the gap between vision and reality.
Call for a new framework
European rail sector is actively participating to the debate. In March 2010 EIM, CER and Unife, representing the European railway community, published a joint position paper aimed at presenting a railway sector’s single vision of the future of transport.
The paper calls for a radically new policy framework to achieve an economically efficient decarbonisation of European transport. In that context pricing and regulatory conditions must ensure fair competition between transport modes. According to the joint position, cooperation and better integration between modes are needed to put transport sector users at the heart of Europe’s transport system.
This paper highlights six actions required in order to achieve such vision of the future of transport:
To focus on customers: The transport system must provide customers with the best possible mobility choice. This applies both to passenger and freight transport. For passengers, this means that the EU should encourage the use of public transport, in particular rail transport. Seamless public transport options are vital. These include parking places for cars and bikes at train stations and well integrated timetables and ticketing options. In addition, integrated e-ticketing will improve access to public transport and contribute to a paperless society. For freight transport there are still some measures that can make rail freight more attractive, such as a smart implementation of the freight corridors regulation, the use of high speed lines for high value freight transport where possible and efficient use of EU funds such as the Marco Polo programme.
To integrate modes: Better integration of transport modes will improve the overall efficiency of the transport system. Using the right transport mode at every step of a journey can help reduce congestion and CO2 emissions. As a result, cooperation between transport modes must be encouraged. The emergence of commercial multimodal door-to-door planners and ticketing systems deserve support in order to define essential interoperability parameters. Support is needed to develop genuine multimodal centres where passengers and/or freight operators can switch seamlessly between transport modes.
To invest in sustainable modes: Alongside the environmental crisis, the world is struggling with the effects of the economic downturn. Together with the threat of climate change, the economic crisis requires urgent action in the transport sector through investment in sustainable projects. This will not only stimulate economic growth and create green jobs but respond to the urgent need to put transport in Europe on a sustainable track. Further development of the European high speed rail network (in particular in the framework of the TEN-T Policy) should remain a priority, as reliable and rapid rail connections induce modal shift from air and road to rail.
To fully liberalise railway transport: The liberalisation of the rail sector is one of the key driving forces for improving the efficiency and quality of services for customers. Efficient liberalised markets should be underpinned by a clear regulatory framework, and backed by independent and competent regulatory bodies. Transparency and separation of functions between railway undertakings and infrastructure managers are vital to ensure the equal treatment of all railway undertakings with regard to access to the rail infrastructure and to service facilities in order to optimise their use at a European level. Domestic market opening should take place in the context of fair competition within the sector.
To set the right price: The rail sector supports ongoing efforts to expand transport infrastructure charging based on the user-pays and polluter-pays principles. Given that transport is only partly covered by the EU ETS, infrastructure charging should internalise the external costs from direct GHG emissions. The lack of equivalent rights between modes distorts inter-modal competition. Equivalent passenger and labour rights are essential across all modes.
To foster the role of technology: Technology and interoperability of European railway systems go hand in hand and are key to market opening. A prime example of this is the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS). This state of the art signalling system is a prerequisite for seamless cross-border traffic by replacing more than 20 different train control systems in Europe.
Studying the future
The Transport White Paper should be a comprehensive document taking into account all the aspect that transport is interconnected with, including the targets for the reduction of CO2 emissions and energy sustainability.
Over the last two years, the European Commission carried out two studies on the future of transport in connection to the environmental and energy challenges. The study by DG CLIMA was called ‘EU Transport GHG: Routes to 2050?’ and explored methods to reduce GHG emissions from the transport sector. DG MOVE’s ‘FreightVision’ developed a long term vision for the long distance freight transport.
Moreover, DG CLIMA is currently elaborating its roadmap for the low carbon economy by 2050 whereas DG ENER has recently published its 2020 strategy for a competitive, sustainable and secure energy.
The upcoming white paper will have to take into account the outcome of the previously mentioned studies and policy papers. Therefore, the publication of the new paper has been postponed to February 2011.
The reasons for this are clear: the transport sector is currently responsible for 27 per cent of all CO2 emissions within the EU-27 and this share is expected to increase.
Among all of the transport modes, rail can already boast with a comparative advantage. It has around 10 per cent of overall transport market share but due to its lower environmental impact it contributes less than 2 per cent of the EU transport sector’s CO2 emissions.
Relying on innovative technologies is not enough to make transport more sustainable, however. The European Union should further promote green policy measures such as the internalisation of external costs of all modes of transport to spread an equal share of responsibility for the pollution and other impacts.
At a time when the EU is lining up its transport policy framework for the next decade, it is of the utmost importance to adequately address the environmental challenges we all face with the right policies.
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