From road to rail

Charging lorries will benefit the environment, says the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies

Written by Jeremy Drew, senior, economic advisor, CER

The next five years will be decisive for a sustainable future of transport in Europe. European Commission President José Manuel Barroso repeatedly acknowledged that tackling greenhouse gas emissions from transport must become a top priority of the next Commission. The EU will have to come up with concrete policies to reduce carbon emissions of the sector by focusing on fair pricing rather than just technological change.
Much is at stake. The European Commission has started preparing a white paper on the future of transport that will be published in 2010 and will aim for a substantial reduction of emissions from the sector. In recent papers the Commission recognises the importance of ensuring that prices reflect the external costs of transport (i.e. local air pollution, CO2 emissions, congestion, noise, and accidents). Transport policy makers today seem to accept the effects of the sector on climate change and air pollution and acknowledge the role that a better integration of different modes of transport can play.

Greening transport
In the sometimes heated debate in Brussels on the right measures to take to green the transport sector, the introduction of the ‘polluter pays’ principle plays a central role. Charging lorries for their external costs could contribute significantly to reducing CO2 emissions from transport. A new study, published by the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER), reveals that modal shift from road to rail could exceed 10 per cent on the whole network and contribute about seven per cent to the required reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from transport. The analysis of two key transport corridors suggests that CO2 savings could be even greater on specific parts of the network.
“The study shows that fair pricing is simply a prerequisite for greener transport,” concludes CER executive director Johannes Ludewig. “The introduction of external cost charges for lorries would lead to a major turnaround and help to improve transport efficiency and reduce CO2 emissions.”
Up to 12 million tons of CO2 emissions could be saved on the whole transport network every year, the calculations in the study indicate. This would contribute about seven per cent to the desired reduction of transport emissions by 20 per cent in 2020. “Our results demonstrate that external cost charging will translate into savings of CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions if railways are able to increase their market performance significantly,” says Professor Werner Rothengatter, coordinator of the study.

Changing to rail
About 60 per cent of all land-borne traffic over distances exceeding 700 km could be carried by rail, according to the study. Much of this would be combined transport for which the feeder part of the trip would be by road. “The relationship between rail and road transport will be increasingly complementary with rail using its obvious strengths over long distances and road freight playing its critical role for regional feeders and distribution,” explains Werner Rothengatter.
The study ‘Internalisation of External Costs of Transport: Impact on Rail’ was carried out by the Institute for Economic Policy Research (IWW) of the University Karlsruhe in Germany and the French Nouveaux Espaces de Transport en Europe – Applications de Recherche (NESTEAR). The authors analysed different scopes and levels of internalisation of external costs and their impact on modal split and the environment in combination with increasing productivity levels of the railways – on the whole network and on the corridors Rotterdam to Genoa and Antwerp/Zeebrugge to Warsaw.
All internalisation scenarios in the study result in a shift from road to rail and eventually in a change of logistics patterns: “On the corridor Rotterdam to Genoa, the reduction of trucks on main routes could be more than 1,000 vehicles each day and in heavily congested areas even up to 2,000 vehicles or more,“ says Werner Rothengatter. “This would result in a traffic load reduction of road of about 10 per cent and bring much more stable flow conditions.”
The study suggests that the road haulage industry would also benefit from an internalisation policy insofar as the logistic chains served by local trucks would enjoy improvements by better reliability and accountability of services.

Charging trucks
For the whole network, the results show that 24 per cent of non-local freight could be carried by rail in 2020 (instead of 19 per cent without charges) if trucks had to pay the full price for the air pollution, noise, congestion, accidents and CO2 emissions they cause. A combined policy of fair pricing and increasing investment in rail productivity would further benefit the railways, emphasises Werner Rothengatter: “Full internalisation of external costs combined with a substantially higher efficiency of the railways could result in a market share of rail of more than 30 per cent in long-distance freight transport.”
However, despite obvious benefits for the environment there has been little progress in developing fair and efficient competition between transport modes. European legislation to allow internalisation of external costs for heavy goods vehicles (the ‘Eurovignette’ directive) has still not been passed. Rail transport as one of the most environmentally friendly modes of transport will not be able to play its full role as long as prices of other transport modes remain artificially cheap.
“Making European transport more environmentally sustainable has been announced as a priority for a post-2010 EU transport policy recently,” CER executive director Johannes Ludewig says. “But such a change will not be achieved through technological improvements or good intentions alone. In the next five to ten years, we hope to see more political will in Europe to really make the transport sector greener. ‘It is time to decide’ was already the subtitle of the European Commission’s 2001 transport white paper; in order to fulfil the climate change goals set by the European Union we must waste no more time and introduce the internalisation of external costs for all modes.”

About the study
The study ‘Internalisation of External Costs of Transport: Impact on Rail’ was carried out by the Institute for Economic Policy Research (IWW) of the University Karlsruhe (TH) in Germany and the French Nouveaux Espaces de Transport en Europe – Applications de Recherche (NESTEAR). It analysed the effects of internalisation according to the following scenarios: Capped (Commission proposal for Eurovignette revision), Capped+ (medium values for all external cost elements), Upper Limits (high values for the external costs), and Scenario Upper Limits/Rail Productivity (combination of full internalisation and productivity improvement). The scenarios were applied on the whole network and on the corridors Rotterdam to Genoa and Antwerp/Zeebrugge to Warsaw.

For more information
The complete study can be obtained is available for download on the CER website

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