Quality of rail freight
The Commission states that, despite some progress in the last few years, the quality of rail freight in the European Union has barely improved. The Commission is putting together a range of proposals with the aim of raising the level of service in this sector and, more generally, to develop the transport of goods by rail.
Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament of 8 September 2008 on the “The quality of rail freight services” [COM(2008) 536 final – Not published in the Official Journal].
This Communication gives an analysis of the quality of rail freight services, the effectiveness of the agreements and voluntary measures implemented by the sector as well as the recommendations for Community action to be implemented in this area. The Commission emphasises that the performance of rail freight has not deteriorated since 2004 and even substantially increased in 2006. It notes however that this trend seems rather fragile since it is the result of external factors such as the increases in oil prices, road congestion and weather conditions unfavourable to inland waterway transport.
The concept of quality can be understood in two ways: the level of service proposed and offered and compliance with contractual commitments. It can also cover other aspects such as availability of the service, safety and security.
Progress made by rail freight
The Commission notes that customer information and the commercial responsiveness of rail freight operators have constantly improved over the last few years. Moreover, the incumbent rail operators have embarked on restructuring their output. The development of competition in particular has stimulated rationalisation, the emergence of new methods, and new production methods and an extension of the services offered. Despite this progress, the Commission regrets that the quality of railway services remains inferior to what the road sector can offer.
The sector as a whole committed itself to improving freight quality, in particular under the framework of a Charter signed in July 2003 by the International Union of Railways (UIC), the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER) and the International Rail Transport Committee (CIT) (Annex I). Furthermore, many incumbent operators have embarked on a policy of certification of the quality of their services (Annex II). Finally, quality clauses are appearing in contracts more and more often.
Guidelines from the Commission
The Commission regrets the lack of information regarding the quality of rail freight. The information most widely available concerns the punctuality of trains, which overall is increasing only very slightly and remains poor (Annexes III and IV). According to the Commission, as a priority, improvements must be made to traffic management, which presupposes in particular the use of new technologies, improvements in infrastructure maintenance, reinforced cooperation between national infrastructure managers and much quicker development of technical and administrative interoperability.
The Commission believes that development of competition is a vital component of improvements in the quality of service, but that this is currently developing too slowly. In order to promote competition, in the short term the Commission will focus on:
- effective application of the rules concerning competition contained in the 1st and 2nd rail packages;
- recasting of the 1st rail package.
Monitoring the implementation of the guidelines on State aid to railway undertakings State aid to railway undertakings will also be an important aspect of improving the operation of the rail markets.
Furthermore, the Commission will step up its action to optimise the use of infrastructure, cooperation between infrastructure managers and investment in rail infrastructure, in particular in the context of the following initiatives:
- the achievement of a European network giving priority to freight COM(2007) 608 final);
- the TEN-T programme;
- the Marco Polo programme.
Finally, with the aim of increasing transparency relating to the quality of services and to encourage the sector as a whole, the Commission will continue to encourage:
- the establishment of schemes for the improvement of performance (Directive 2001/14/EC);
- the development of tools for measuring the performance of rail freight;
- the publication of quality indicators.
In 2004 the Commission put forward a proposal for a Regulation on compensation in cases of non-compliance with quality requirements applicable to rail freight services. The proposal, which was prompted by the poor quality of service provided by freight operators and the need for improvements in order to encourage the transport of goods by rail, was withdrawn in the end. Should the current problems not be resolved, the Commission foresees the possibility of putting forward a new proposal.