Connecting Europe

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A new EU White Paper on Transport has focussed on ‘modal-rebalancing’ to help solve Europe’s transport problems. The EU sees major investment in railways and inland waterways as a stepping stone to improved transport systems, and recognises the crippling gridlock associated with road transport, both private and freight.

The EU hopes to have a single European railway system in place by 2020, and welcomes the initiatives shown by the likes of the Swedish giant IKEA, which plans to move 40% of its goods produced by rail, effectively competing with the traditional railway companies at their own game. Similarly BASF, the German chemicals giant, has muscled in on the territory once occupied by the historical operators, and the EU welcomes these developments as a significant policy shift – the regulated opening-up of the markets. It is hoped that the market share of passengers will increase from 6% to 10%, and freight from 8% to 15%.
Ultimately the EU recognises that increased rail traffic will bring healthy competition between new and old rail companies, whilst increasing competitiveness between rail and other modes of transport. The EU also hopes to introduce “cabotage”, whereby trains won’t run empty on the tracks when they have delivered their goods, a policy that has worked well with road transport. Other proposals include increased emphasis on safety issues, interoperability directives that will improve rail efficiencies across borders, and a greater emphasis on international passenger services such as faster, on schedule trains.
A disparity also exists in that over the last 30 years, 600km of rail track have been closed, whilst 1,200km of motorway have opened up – a trend the EU wants to reverse. The EU recognises a number of organisational problems to be overcome if rail traffic increases, including better trained drivers, overcoming problems related to track gauge differences, and resolving social differences.
In relation to the skies, the EU expects air travel to double by 2010. It recognises that the low-cost air operators, like Ryanair, have contributed to relieving the massive congestion at major airports. Problems remain though in partioning the skies: A plane leaving the UK for France is forced to fly at two altitudes – 24,500 feet over the UK, and dropping to 19,500 feet over French airspace. The EU recognises the need for a common aviation policy across all member states of the EU. An ‘inter-modality’ with rail services is seen as a vital link to be developed.
The programme forward “Marco Polo” recognises the need to increase inter-modality between all transport systems including shipping. Inland shipping is seen as more environmentally friendly than other forms of transport, in particular, roads. With 35,000 km of coastline, creating “motorways of the sea” is seen by the EU as an attractive alternative. It is estimated that Europe’s canal network, when combined with the new Accession states, carries 425 million tons. An ‘inter-modality’ between the ports, shipping, and the trans-European rail network is vital. Between Lille and Rotherdam, a canal network has already removed fifty lorries from a heavily used road corridor, and a similar initiative between Spain and Germany has already removed 6,500 lorries from congested roadways.
Road safety is of paramount importance to the EU. In 2000, 40,000 people died on the roads of Europe equating to an economic loss of 160 billion euros – 2% of European GNP – in direct and indirect suffering. The Swedish method of zero tolerance in relation to road deaths is seen as highly effective in helping to reduce the toll and human misery. Finally the EU recognises the vital need for technological advancement, such as the Galileo satellite, which can co-ordinate the movement of transport systems. The White Paper is seen as the initial stages of a transport strategy that will take 30 years to integrate fully.