Rail transportation produces 3,5 times less CO2 emissions than road, reduce our dependence to petrol and is a very safe way of travelling. Since 1992, the European Commission is trying to foster the transportation of goods by rail by liberalizing the sector or encouraging interoperability and security in the Union, without obtaining significant results. Here is a short summary of some problems freight has to face in Europe.
First issue : The technical differences from a country to another
Even if most European railway have a rail gauge of 1,435 mm, this isn’t the case of the Iberian peninsula, Russia or Ukraine for example. At a time were Europe wasn’t a peaceful continent, it had a goal: prevent your enemies to invade your country. The electrification systems are also very different, as well as the signalling systems (19 different ones in the EU), the loading gauge (the width of trains, essential data to pass through tunnels), or the platforms height.
Second issue : The cost
Besides important fixed cost due to high loading and unloading costs, freight trains have to pay a certain amount of money for each kilometre they make on the infrastructure, which isn’t always the case on the road. It contribute to raise the cost of the rail, when at the same time trucks aren’t paying for the « damage » they occur to a public infrastructure.
Third issue : The time
Transporting goods by rail takes time. The average speed of a freight train is 18km/h in Europe, due to several factors: the bad cooperation between countries to organize the allocation of trains paths, the interoperability issues, and the bad quality of the infrastructure, This make rail an impossible option to choose for transporting perishable goods and a bad one when you need a fast and punctual delivery.
To conlcude, railway freight could represent a great alternative to the transportation by road in the EU, but it has to face some important challenges which cannot be solved at a national scale. We can only hope that the rising environmental requirements will contribute to develop the quality of the service and initiate a significant modal transfer.