BOX 3: The Ec’s strategy for freight transport

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If the difficulties afflicting the transport sector are easily identifiable, so are the solutions. There are several that can be applied separately, although most need to be used in combination.

Revitalise the railways and other alternatives to road haulage.

Get freight traffic to switch from roads to alternative transport forms, especially rail, but also short-sea and inland waterways.

Promote alternatives that combine transport modes.

In the TENs projects concentrate on removing cross-border bottlenecks, particularly in the rail sector, like Alpine crossings or passages through the Pyrenees.

Make users of transport systems pay more directly for the infrastructure and facilities they use.

Reduce pollution and the sources of pollution and increase safety and and the lack of good connections between regional or national networks.

The EC has proposed various solutions to the issues of transport, such as the TENs project and actions to promote alternatives to road transport. The TENs were incorporated into the Maastricht Treaty as a major policy objective. The aim was to create truly trans-European routes for all modes of transport. A list of 14 priority projects was drawn up for completion by 2010.

However, the programme got off to a slow start. By 2003 only three of the 14 projects identified as priorities had been finalised. These included the Oeresund Bridge and the tunnel linking Denmark and Sweden, and the Malpensa Airport in Italy. Part of the reason was the huge cost of the first phase of TENs projects, estimated at Euros 400Bn. Hence the need for the revitalisation of the TENs programmes.

Road freight provides business with a fast, efficient, flexible and cheap service. As much as 44% of goods transport within the EU goes by road. But, there is recognition that transport cannot go on growing, especially road transport. The saturation of roads in many industrial European regions raises concerns about pollution, heath and safety. Congestion is made worse by a combination of several factors, such as transport networks that are not linked together, capacities that are not fully used and costs that are not correctly charged to the user.

A more rational use of the road networks is proposed by users paying directly for certain costs, such as tolling through satellite navigation systems. This could be accomplished through the Galileo satellite navigation system based on a network of 30 satellites and ground stations.

Although the rail network has some spare capacity, about 20% of Europe’s main lines (16,000km of track) are classed as bottlenecks. The EC document maintains that the national rail networks are poorly interconnected with each other, having different technical standards and signalling systems. Combined journeys using more than one mode of transport are under-used.

Furthermore, the cost of building and maintaining transport infrastructure is not always covered by the amounts users pay to use them. Success in shifting freight off the roads will depend on improving rail services – users must have confidence in its reliability and punctuality.

The opening up of national freight markets to competition in 2003 forms part of the EU strategy. Also, a network of main lines dedicated exclusively to freight services must gradually be set up to make sure that rail freight is given the same commercial importance as passenger traffic.

Short-sea shipping can be used to create maritime highways around current land bottlenecks, which could then be integrated into the TENs alongside roads and railways. Better connections between ports and rail and inland waterways networks will be needed together with better port services. Investment in new transshipment equipment can integrate inland waterways into this kind of transport structure. The Marco Polo programme could assist this development (see Box 2.)

According to the EC document, freight will benefit from technical harmonisation and the ability of different systems to operate together, particularly for container traffic. It claims that the role of combined road-rail transport in easing road congestion on the main north/south routes across the Alps depends on rail’s ability to meet this challenge. The Commission’s future strategy for freight sustainability calls for more joint action, seeking a modal balance and managing change (see Box 3).

The EU policy document states that three things are clear about the future of the EU’s transport policy. These are:-

lThe problems are many and have been identified.

lThe solutions are also evident, but difficult to apply.

lA global approach is required involving all players, local, national and European.

Furthermore, the entry of 10 new Member States presents new challenges and opportunities. Overall, transport policy in Europe is at a crossroads. The future depends on using road transport rationally, switching from road to rail without losing competitiveness, efficiency, speed or comfort, making more journeys that involve a mix of different modes and reducing transport related pollution.

Transport can meet the requirements of sustainable development only under certain conditions. According to the EU there must be:-

lPolitical will and determination to solve the problems together.

lA new approach to urban transport, which provides scope for a rational use of private cars.

lImprovements in service quality to off set the rising cost of mobility.

lAn adequate way to finance infrastructure and eliminate bottlenecks.

lCoherence between the EU’s transport policy and other key policies, such as economic and environmental, fiscal, social and budgetary policies and town and country planning. n

Frank Worsford works in the transport studies group at the University of Westminster.

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