The European dimension of Freight Transport

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Road Freight Transport: In 1988, before the Masstricht Treaty, one of the first things the EU did was to harmonise transit documents for trucks and freight crossing internal EU frontiers, reducing the previous sheaf of paper to a single form, before abolishing checks altogether. Then came authorisation for trucks from one country to pick up and deliver loads in another so that they no longer returned empty from international deliveries.

Driver’s hours were also harmonised. A first step was also taken towards a Europe-wide system of charging to use the road infrastructure. In countries that did not levy motorways tolls, road hauliers using the motorways were obliged to buy a eurovignette.

Rail Freight Transport: Since 1970, rail market share has fallen from 10% to 6% for passenger traffic and from 21% to 8% for freight. International freight trains cross the EU at an average speed of just 18km/h. The rail network has spare capacity, yet there are bottlenecks where passenger and freight trains share the same sections of track. The main problem facing the railways is that they cannot compete with road transport – not only are they slower, they are also less reliable when it comes to delivery times.

National rail networks operate to different standards and have not done enough to integrate with each other. Railways have unique advantages as a safe and clean mode of transport. Their infrastructure covers a lot of EU territory and is generally in a good state. If rail can be revitalised, it will offer a real alternative to congested road and air transport. The EC took the first major step in this direction in March 2003 when new legislation came into force allowing private train operators to compete with state-owned rail companies for rail freight services. Competition will first take place on 50,000km of main line track, which carries between 70% and 80% of EU rail freight. Other EU freight services will follow by 2008.

Water Freight Transport: Water transport is the poor relation among the different forms of transport. The EU seagoing fleet has shrunk in recent years because of competition from flags of convenience, i.e. shipping companies registered in countries where safety standards and crew qualifications are lower than in the EU. However, with the arrival of the ten new member states, the EU’s fleet has risen to 26% of total world merchant shipping. Moreover, 41% of goods transported within the EU travel by ship over the so-called short-sea routes, and this share is growing.

The EU has also opened up national shipping markets to competition from vessels of other member states. The EU’s inland waterways network is underused yet is a safe, reliable, quiet and energy efficient form of transport. A single barge can carry the same load as 110 trucks. Increased use of short-sea shipping routes and inland waterways could provide part of the answer to road congestion and inadequate (or inefficient) rail infrastructure.policy document the present patterns of transport growth are unsustainable.

The main challenge at EU level is seen as being twofold:- How to encourage a better balance between the different forms of transport? How to make better use of existing networks?

The EC’s response to these challenges is firstly, to shift more long distance road journeys and short distance air journeys onto railways. But this will depend crucially on improving Europe’s railways. Secondly, Europe’s fragmented patchwork of regional and national transport needs to be turned into a properly integrated whole. Thirdly, priority to promote combined journeys ? known as intermodality, an arrangement to combine the different transport modes, road, rail, water, air – to provide a more efficient, effective and more sustainable logistics link. Fourthly, carry out major Europe-wide transport infrastructure projects, the so-called Trans-European Networks (TENs). Following the EU’s enlargement by a further ten new member states last May the issue the TENs is even more important.

According to the EC document a safe, reliable, comfortable and rapid transport is vital not only for people, but also for business to deliver the products that in a large part determine lifestyle. An efficient transport system is essential to keep Europe’s economy competitive and its single market running smoothly. Furthermore, modern production methods based upon just-in-time (JIT) delivery of parts and components require more frequent journeys than in the past, therefore putting more pressure on transport services.

The document points out that by its policies the Commission has boosted transport growth. Besides removing physical frontiers, it has introduced a range of policies that underpin the single market and boost trade. These include competition policy, which delivers more goods at lower prices and measures to encourage cross-border co-operation between businesses, or to get EU countries to recognise each other’s technical standards.

EU membership does not prevent countries from developing their own transport infrastructure. The justification for EU involvement comes when common action is needed to maintain the four basic freedoms or when national policies, if uncoordinated, risk discriminating between transport operators from different EU countries. From the outset, the EC has had a responsibility to implement a common transport policy, which was lain down in the 1957 Treaty of Rome.

For the logistics industry sector the EU has been opening up national transport markets to competition, tackling each form of transport, road, rail and water in turn. These measures will be beneficial for the logistics industry in the future (see Box 1.).

Although the individual transport sectors have been successfully liberalised and national markets incorporated into the European single market, there is still no comprehensive and coherent transport policy. On the whole, national investment by EU governments has continued to favour road over rail. As a result, major problems persist, which include:-

The dominance of road transport at the expense of other modes, Congestion and bottlenecks, Harmful effects on the environment and human health, The fragmentation of transport.

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