Brussels, 25 July 2012
State aid: Commission approves Austrian aid scheme for rail freight transport
The European Commission has authorised, under EU state aid rules, an Austrian aid scheme to support freight rail transport with a total budget of €1 118 million in the period 2012 to 2017. The Commission found the measure to be in line with EU state aid rules mainly because it creates a level playing field for competition between rail freight and road freight transport by allowing the state to compensate rail freight companies for additional costs faced by rail transport but not by road transport. This will ensure a higher level of frail freight transport without unduly distorting competition, in line with the EU's transport and state aid policies.
The Austrian scheme aims to support rail freight transport, which it is at a disadvantage as compared to road freight traffic due to higher production costs inherent to the railway system. Without such public support, rail freight would either be offered only to a limited extent or would not be offered at all. This aid scheme also has environmental objectives. Rail freight transport has a much lower environmental impact than road freight transport, causes less traffic accidents and also contributes to the decongestion of roads.
The Commission found the measure to be in line with its Guidelines for State Aid to Railway Companies. In particular, the aid amounts are strictly limited to the compensation of the opportunity cost linked to the use of rail transport rather than a more polluting mode of transport. The aid will be available to any rail freight company offering or planning to offer cargo services in Austria. The broad eligibility criteria allow the largest number of railway companies to benefit from the aid scheme.
At the same time, the Commission has approved the prolongation of another Austrian aid scheme with a budget of €25 million, similar in scope and objectives, supporting logistics companies to invest in intermodal transport equipment and new safety technologies. The Commission similarly found that the aid amounts are strictly limited to the compensation of the opportunity cost linked to the use of rail transport rather than with the use of a more polluting mode of transport.
Austria's current support scheme for rail freight transport expires in December 2012. Following a change in the legal basis, Austria had to notify a new aid scheme. The Austrian authorities aim to support rail freight transport, because it is at a disadvantage as compared to road freight traffic, due to higher production costs inherent to the railway system. Austria has traditionally a high share of rail freight transport (36% of all freight transport is rail freight which ranks Austria among the top 5 Member States in the EU). Given its sensitive mountainous environment and increasing road traffic, Austria wants to preserve this high share. But freight transport reacts even to small price changes and an end of the existing aid scheme would have led to a significant increase in road freight transport.
The non-confidential version of the decisions will be made available under the case numbers SA.33993 and SA.33669 in the State Aid Register on the DG Competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved. New publications of state aid decisions on the internet and in the Official Journal are listed in the State Aid Weekly e-News.