Curing the Chiasso syndrome

first_imgCOMMUNITY of European Railways’ Chairman Heinz Dürr presented plans on April 14 to Transport Commissioner Neil Kinnock for putting into practice the concept of Freight Freeways. The proposals were discussed at a high-level Commission meeting in Brussels on April 17 at which launch of a pilot Freeway was likely to be given the go-ahead. It is not before time. For many years we have advocated dedicated management of international freight routes to give Europe’s railways the ability to stem the haemorrhage of cross-border freight to road hauliers. This may be about to happen.The CER’s report European Rail Freeways: Proposal to the European Commission assumes that separation of infrastructure and operations will proceed to the point where infrastructure managers will be able to offer licensed railway operators paths on a spot basis or over longer periods as part of a market-driven policy. The aim will be to provide ’seamless’ services from ’one-stop shops’ that offer ’consolidated infrastructure tariffs’ – initially the summation of fees for infrastructure use in each country but ultimately packages at attractive prices. The ability to respond flexibly and within hours to customers’ requests for price quotations will be vital to success.Taking two routes between Italy and Benelux countries (one via France, the other through Switzerland and Germany) as an example, the report identifies paths where simple measures can be implemented to cut journey times. Nearly 6h spent at frontiers in one case can be cut to just 1h 15min. Surprisingly, the report finds that it is not so much wagon inspection and administrative delays associated with customs that causes frontier delays, but mismatches between national timetables, although waiting for crews and locomotives, capacity constraints and the low priority given to freight trains also contribute.The first Freeway could be set up on an experimental basis this year – the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy have agreed voluntarily to test the concept. Perhaps it is wishful thinking for the moment, but the rows of wagons waiting at border yards such as Chiasso could become a thing of the past.Through working of locomotives and crews remains another worthwhile objective, and from September Dutch locos and drivers will be able to cross the Belgian border and continue to Antwerpen, so ending the need for four locos and four crew changes on the recently-launched NDX Shuttle between Rotterdam and Antwerpen.The European Shippers’ Council has meanwhile issued its own action plan in response to the European Commission’s White Paper, and suggests that ’the next few years represent a window of opportunity to develop pan-European rail freight that may not be available in the future.’ It calls for ’dismantling of the complex network of co-operative agreements that exists between European railway companies’ which ’potentially threaten the future development of an efficient and competitive rail market’. The ESC also demands better service levels with a named contact for business enquiries and problem solving, door-to-door market pricing, ring-fencing of assets such as locomotives and drivers used for international services and a realistic timetable for full deregulation of European rail freight. The Freeway concept is clearly a welcome step forward – we trust it is not too late. English Welsh & Scottish Railway had informal discussions with NDX Intermodal in March to explore the opportunities for increasing rail traffic between Britain and Germany, Britain’s largest trading partner.As part of the deal that EWS has made with the British government for taking over Railfreight Distribution, the British Railways Board will pay to Eurotunnel the whole of the British share of the Minimum Usage Charge attributable to freight until 2006, not as stated in RG 4.97 p214. olast_img read more