Corona has pushed climate protection out of the headlines. Last week, however, the topic returned again very prominently to the agenda – in Berlin, at a German Parliamentary Group panel discussion on rail transportation. The outcome of the presentations and subsequent discussion was that without a drastic increase in rail freight transports, neither the German nor the EU climate targets can be achieved by 2030.
Last year, the railways' market share in the transport of goods across Germany or beyond national borders was exactly 18.8%. This figure has largely stagnated for years. Given this fact, the goal
of 25%, which was politically set for 2030, is very ambitious, to put it mildly.
Yet it is feasible, as government representatives and industry experts emphasized at the meeting. However, only if key conditions are met - quickly:
- The rail network must be expanded rapidly, planning processes must be drastically shortened as must approval procedures,
- Billion-euro investments, which have already been approved by the government, must not fall victim to corona savings programs,
- The previously analog and very error-prone rail system must be digitalized as quickly as possible, so that a 20% denser train sequence could already be implemented today on the existing tracks.
- Simultaneously, the route network must be expanded, the competitiveness of rail vis-à-vis other modes of transport, especially trucks, further improved, and rail freight transports made more
Those are the key points standing in the catalog.
Get better pricing on track
The program will be discussed and decided next month, leading to a “rail pact”, provided politicians agree to the contents.
The discussion has already made it clear what the priorities of this accord will be: the public interest in basic services will take precedence over the profit interest of railway companies (or minimize their losses as is the case for DB Cargo). In order to prevent railroad companies from sliding into the financial abyss, the Berlin government approved a billion-euro program to modernize the entire railway system and upgrade its competitiveness. Part of the scheme is the halving of track prices payable by cargo train operators to the state.
Further incentives, said Cem Östemir, head of the Parliamentary Group and member of the Green Party's Fraction in the German Bundestag, would be to exempt trucking companies from toll payments in case of modal split. He also said that the further lowering of track prices to marginal cost level would be a step towards making railways more economically attractive than trucks.
Hold the line, while we try to connect you!
Sigrid Nikutta, CEO of DB Cargo AG, was pleased with the paradigm shift in policy, which prioritizes rail freight transport over other modes of transport. In addition to bad news, she also highlighted positive news: "It is true that during the corona crisis, freight volumes collapsed because car manufacturers and other major industries stopped producing for weeks. But we have gained new customers, among them major pasta production companies from Italy, manufacturers of disinfectants or of cellulose, a basic material for hygiene products.”
In order to keep these customers on “track”, the railway system must become more flexible, faster and more customer friendly. This was also emphasized by the participants. Michael Peter, CEO of Siemens Mobility GmbH, had an illustrative comparison: "You may remember the telephone with the rotary dial. The freight railway is still at this technical level. We are now 2 generations ahead in telecommunications. For the rail system, this quantum leap from stone age technology to digital systems is still to come.”
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