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Council Position on Railway Infrastructure Capacity Regulation “Will Not Improve Rail Freight Services”

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The Council of the European Union has adopted a General Approach on the Commission Proposal for a Regulation on Railway Infrastructure Capacity. The proposal is intended to optimise railway capacity, improve cross-border coordination, increase punctuality and reliability, and ultimately attract more freight to rail. But five trade bodies argue that the general approach adopted does not go far enough in meeting these objectives. 

The trade bodies are:
CLECAT – which represents the interests of more than 19.000 companies employing in excess of 1.000.000 staff in logistics, freight forwarding and customs services.
ERFA – European Rail Freight Association – the European Association representing European private and independent rail freight companies.
ESC – European Shippers’ Council, which represents the logistics interests of more than 75,000 companies both SMEs and large multinationals in all modes of transport..
UIP – International Union of Wagon Keepers, the umbrella association of national associations from 14 European countries, representing more than 250 freight wagon keepers and Entities in Charge of Maintenance (ECMs).
UIRR – the International Union for Road-Rail Combined Transport represents the interests of European road-rail Combined Transport Operators and Transhipment Terminal Managers.

They have issued this response to the Council’s decision:
For rail freight to become increasingly attractive to end users, it needs to move away from a national approach on capacity management to a more internationally coordinated approach. Over 50% of rail freight, and nearly 90% of intermodal rail freight, operates across at least one national border today. Presently the infrastructure is managed on a national basis with little international coordination. Rail freight is therefore operating cross-border services on a patchwork of national networks.

This does not mean that the current infrastructure management system for capacity allocation, which is largely built around the needs of passenger traffic, needs to be abandoned. The capacity needs of rail freight can be achieved through an internationally agreed framework for capacity management which caters for long-term, rolling planning and secured international paths for rail freight. For rail freight services to become more attractive to end users, it must be accepted the status-quo is not effective. How railway capacity is managed needs to evolve into an international, digital and flexible system.

What we observe in the General Approach unfortunately does not go in this direction. The general move towards making European rules proposed by the European Commission unbinding, or open to national derogations, will lead to a situation where rail freight continues to operate on various national patchworks. It will mean continued fragmentation and sub-optimal exploitation of the available European railway infrastructure capacity and, crucially, an inadequate support to European supply chains.

It is also highly doubtful whether the proposal of the Council will reduce the impact of temporary capacity restrictions on rail freight services. Today, rail freight services throughout many European Member States are experiencing significant delays and cancellations due to poorly planned and uncoordinated capacity restrictions which lack the required focus on traffic continuity solutions. It is important for the new regulation to include provisions for ensuring rail freight becomes more predictable during capacity restrictions. This should be supported by real reciprocal incentives for infrastructure managers to plan capacity in a customer-friendly manner well in advance.

The Council proposal to delay the entry into force of this Regulation until 2029, and 2032 for certain provisions, will mean this Regulation will have no impact on the European Commission’s goal of achieving a 50% growth of rail freight by 2030. This sends a message that policymakers are giving up the agreed 2030 objective.

Ahead of the upcoming trilogue negotiations it is essential that the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council arrive at an agreed text which places a greater emphasis on meeting the business requirements of a functioning European rail freight market or there is a significant risk the proposal will have no real impact on increasing the punctuality and reliability of European rail freight.


The Community of European Railway & Infrastructure Companies (CER) struck a more conciliatory tone. It welcomed the Council’s General Approach as an important step towards the negotiations with the European Parliament but highlighted several areas of concern, making the following points:

Regulation on the use of railway infrastructure capacity

A harmonised EU approach to capacity management is essential to facilitate the rapid expansion of cross-border rail transport at a time of scarce capacity. CER therefore regrets to see an explicit reference to the non-bindingness of European Frameworks in the Regulation proposal and urges Member States to ensure their effective implementation. CER welcomes the new coordination dialogue foreseen between Member States, European Coordinators, and the European Commission.

However, it is also necessary to ensure a specific coordination mandate in the case of national guidance on conflict resolution to facilitate cross-border traffic. Moreover the necessary EU funding must be available to implement the Regulation, especially in view of the new European governance structure. CER also regrets the prolonged enforcement timelines introduced in the Regulation. The rail sector supports the original deadlines proposed by the Commission (i.e. 2026 for most of the Regulation and 2029 for certain provisions of capacity management).

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Finally, CER appreciates the inclusion of Infrastructure Manager consultation with operational stakeholders as a constant and participative dialogue. This will be a key for success, however we believe the Regulation should include a dedicated new platform representing the applicants requesting capacity – in particular railway undertakings – as a counterpart equivalent to the European Network of Infrastructure Managers (ENIM).  

Weights & Dimensions Directive

CER welcomes the intention to promote the decarbonisation of road freight, which was duly recognised in the previous amendments of the Weights and Dimensions Directive, allowing for the additional weight of zero-emission powertrains on Heavy Goods Vehicles. The most recent revision proposal however leads to several consequences that have not been fully assessed. CER and other European organisations have ceaselessly alerted to this fact, particularly the serious risk of inducing a modal shift of freight from rail to road, which is inconsistent with the need to decarbonise road transport and safeguard the highest possible safety standards in land transport.

The debate in the Council has added to these concerns, particularly regarding the impact on road infrastructure and road safety, both requiring additional investment from Member States. The proposal requires a further thorough assessment of its multiple impacts and, ultimately, of its added value, considering the already adopted measures to promote zero-emission vehicles in the Directive currently in force.  

Combined Transport Directive

The proposal to revise the Combined Transport Directive is essential to enhance intermodality. With the correct incentives set in place, it can contribute to reduce transport externalities and create synergies between policies, such as the promotion of zero-emission vehicles, which may optimally be combined with long-haul trips over rail. The search for a more intuitive definition for Combined Transport must also keep track of the need to reward the operations which achieve the highest possible external cost savings.

Creating more certainty through a new definition must not open the door to misleading incentives claiming support in operations involving extremely extensive road legs – a concern recognised by several Member States in the Council. It is therefore crucial to keep safeguarding provisions already set in the Directive, such as maintaining the 150km radius for road legs to ports. CER encourages legislators to bear this in mind while proceeding forward.  

CER Executive Director Alberto Mazzola said: “Today’s Council discussions pave the way for new important developments for the rail sector. We thank Member States for their efforts, particularly the Belgian Presidency for its good work over the past months. However, there are further improvements to be made and CER would like to see harmonisation of capacity management processes across Europe; in particular it is necessary to ensure a specific coordination mandate in the case of national guidance on conflict resolution to facilitate and not block cross-border traffic. Time is of the essence and we need to do it right if we want to optimise and boost existing capacity to meet the increasing demand”.   

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