Rail transport: short-term support essential on Track Access Charges

Proposed hikes to Track Access Charges (TACs) throughout many European countries have the potential to totally undermine Europe’s modal shift objectives. Planned increases in TACs in Sweden, Germany and Portugal by 40%, 16% and 8% respectively display a broader trend in railway infrastructure charging throughout the European Union. It is not possible for national governments and Infrastructure Managers to talk about modal shift to rail whilst also putting rail freight in an increasingly competitively disadvantaged position with other modes of transportation.

Firstly, one of the key issues facing rail freight undertakings is unexpected developments on TACs in the short term with proposed increases in infrastructure charges and their impact on existing transport contracts. Rail transport contracts are mostly set for 2-3 years, and Railway Undertakings and customers need a multi-year stability regarding TACs to plan joint transport concepts. This is the basis for modal shift. Many contracts for 2025 have already been set, long before railway undertakings were informed of any increases. This means contracts need to be renegotiated, as rail freight undertakings cannot just absorb the costs. Further price increases towards end customers will jeopardise the position of rail freight during an ongoing difficult economic situation for European industry.

Secondly, the planned increases are taken in total isolation from road charging. This leads to a totally disjointed approach and this evolution increasingly puts rail freight in a competitive disadvantage compared to road transport. High infrastructure costs, joint with high unpredictability in cost evolution, call into question the support of policy makers for growing rail freight volumes.

In the long-term, the European Union and Member States need to develop an ambitious track access charges policy for rail freight which, at its core, focuses on the role of track access charges as a strategic tool in achieving modal shift. This needs to include a clear focus on marginal cost principles and consideration of the financial burden for rail freight instead of full cost approaches.

For more information, please see here.