UECC Transport News Briefing January 2022
The UECC working group held its first virtual meeting in December to discuss the most important topics for 2022. The first phase of the new UECC website has been unveiled, featuring the updated Rhine resolution approved by all members to strengthen inland navigation.
Ongoing disruption amid the fourth wave of Covid-19 by the Omicron variant is the dominant issue across Europe. The European Commission is urging free movement for transport workers to avert the supply chain chaos of previous years. The Commission recommends that transport workers at most be obliged to undergo a rapid antigen test, even when coming from areas with high rates of infection, so as not to interfere with cross-border transport.
Since the last UECC general meeting in Strasbourg in October, the political leadership in transport and infrastructure has changed in several member states. In the Netherlands, Cora van Nieuwenhuizen, the minister of infrastructure and water management, has been tasked with ambitious goals on climate and wind energy by the new four-party coalition. In Germany, Volker Wissing, the new minister of digital infrastructure and transport from the Free Democratic Party, is placing digital first in the first coalition including the Greens. He is expected to implement the coalition agreement under the motto “Dare more progress,” focusing on sustainability and speed of execution in infrastructure projects. Associations and trade parties have welcomed this approach: the coalition is putting railways front and centre to reduce the sector’s climate impact. In Austria, the minister of transport, Leonore Gewessler, is defending the Tyrolean restrictions on Brenner transit following the 1.52 million increase in truck numbers from 1994 to 2019, while calling for a more ambitious approach to the northern access to the Brenner.
The next general meeting of the UECC scheduled for March 24th and 25th in Innsbruck Tyrol (A) will focus on the 64km Brenner Base Tunnel, the world’s longest underground railway connection, because of its importance as a freight and passenger corridor in Europe.
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UECC Updates & Top News
UECC calls for urgent infrastructure improvements on the Rhine
Urgent action is needed to accelerate infrastructure projects on the Rhine, with greater investment and coordination, in order to increase freight transport capacity on the critical inland waterway. The UECC is calling on the German government to step up activities to improve the navigability of the Rhine, including pending projects to increase fairway depth, improve bed stabilisation and optimise unloading capacity, alongside the development of a European master plan aimed at doubling container volumes on inland waterways by 2035. It notes that, compared to road and rail, inland shipping is the most sustainable mode of transport and can make a significant contribution to reducing CO2 emissions, while being the only mode of transport that still has free capacity to handle increasing volumes of goods.
News from Brussels
EU targets rail renaissance as part of Green Deal
The European Commission has unveiled a strategy to increase the use of cross-border rail as part of the European Green Deal to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. Proposals include streamlining national regulations, cutting track-use costs and boosting the region's long-distance night-train network alongside a broader revision of guidelines to develop the Trans-European Transport Network, which will link 424 cities and make transport more sustainable. The European Investment Bank will also launch the Green Rail Investment Platform to assist investments by both public and private entities in rail projects, including acquiring new rail cars and related equipment
Court of Auditors calls for EU to learn from other countries to mitigate transport project delays
Delays are the distinctive feature of large transport infrastructure projects in the EU compared to other developed countries, with completion of major initiatives delayed by on average 11 years, according to a review by the European Court of Auditors. The review suggests delays are partly due to different and sometimes conflicting priorities between EU funding bodies and member states, which tend to focus on their national interests neglecting cross-border sections of projects, exemplified by Germany not making construction of the cross-border northern access route to the Brenner Base Tunnel a priority even though the EU, Austria and Italy have been investing in the project since 1986. The auditors recommend less national planning and to learn from countries such as Switzerland, Norway, Canada and the US to complete EU transport projects more efficiently and punctually.
Urban Mobility Framework to tackle congestion, pollution and accessibility
The European Commission's proposed Urban Mobility Framework will provide local and regional governments with detailed guidance and funding options for cutting congestion, emissions and noise in cities, while improving accessibility, road safety and digitalisation. The plan will also increase support for sustainable transport options, especially green public transport, walking and cycling, as well as zero-emission urban logistics.
Commission opens consultation on Railway Guidelines state aid rules
The European Commission has opened a public consultation until March 16 on a proposed revision of the 2008 Railway Guidelines, which set out the conditions under which aid to railway companies may be considered compatible with internal market and state aid rules. Margrethe Vestager, executive vice-president in charge of competition policy, says the Commission aims to make it easier for member states to support less polluting and more sustainable transport solutions than road-only transport, such as rail, inland waterway and intermodal transport. The Commission has also adopted a measure to continue to allow EU member states to decrease or waive track access charges temporarily, extending efforts to support the rail sector amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Transport committee approves provisional deal on cross-border truck rentals
The European Parliament's Transport and Tourism Committee has approved a provisional deal on easing existing restrictions on the use of vans or trucks without drivers hired from another EU country. The deal, seen as crucial for transport operators, rental and leasing companies seeking to meet short-term, seasonal or temporary demand peaks, would enable transport companies to use hired vehicles from other EU countries for at least two months per year.
Market & Company News
China-Europe rail freight reaches new record
A record 15,000 freight train journeys carrying 1.46 million containers were made between China and Europe in 2021, an 82% increase from 2019 as rail freight absorbed the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on international shipping. Ten years after the first freight trains travelled the China-Europe rail service, launched as part of Beijing's Belt and Road infrastructure programme, rail is forecast to account for 10% of the total transport market between Europe and China by 2030. Initiatives are underway to further enhance the sector, including a recent agreement between Russian Railways, Austrian Federal Railways and Hungary's CER Cargo Holding to establish a trilateral joint venture to improve connectivity for freight transported from China
Daimler Truck, TotalEnergies to develop hydrogen trucks and infrastructure
Daimler Truck and TotalEnergies have signed a partnership agreement to create ecosystems to support heavy-duty trucks running on hydrogen. The initiative includes the development of hydrogen sourcing and logistics, hydrogen refuelling stations, and hydrogen-based trucks. Daimler Truck is looking to supply hydrogen fuel-cell trucks to customers in Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France by 2025, while TotalEnergies aims to operate 150 stations in those four markets, plus Germany, by 2030. A recent EU-funded study suggests that 17% of new heavy vehicles sold in the EU by 2030 could run on hydrogen.
Policy & Initiatives
EGTC enters 2022 under new leadership
Cecilia Braun has become director of the Interregional Alliance for the Rhine-Alpine Corridor EGTC as of January 1, succeeding Jörg Saalbach who is retiring after almost seven years in the role. Braun, who holds a PhD in spatial planning, will aim to continue the course set by Saalbach, under whose leadership the EGTC grew from 10 founding members to 26, covering all six Rhine-Alpine Corridor countries.
German minister to oversee both transport and digital policy
Germany's federal ministry of transport will also oversee the country's digital policy under the new coalition government, assuming a competency previously held by the economy ministry. Minister Volker Wissing, who will manage an expanded budget, says transport, mobility and digital issues are complementary under the coalition's plans to modernise Germany and improving citizens' daily life. The coalition government has appointed Claudia Müller, a member of the Greens, as the new coordinator for the maritime economy and tourism.
Luxembourg, Austria and Switzerland sign zero-emissions MoU
Austria, Luxembourg and Switzerland are among 15 signatory countries to a global memorandum of understanding for a zero-emissions medium- and heavy-duty vehicle initiative that sets an interim goal of 30% zero-emission new vehicle sales by 2030, and a 100% zero-emission target for 2040. The project has been developed by the CALSTART grouping of vehicle manufacturers, government agencies, energy suppliers and other transport sector actors, together with the Dutch government.
Luc Frieden takes over as chairman of Eurochambres
Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce chairman Luc Frieden has become head of Eurochambres, the association of European chambers of commerce and industry, as of January 1. During his two-year mandate as chairman, the former Luxembourg finance and justice minister says he will focus on facilitating post-pandemic recovery and deepening the EU single market, facilitating environmental protection and technological change, and promoting free trade. Frieden has been chairman of the Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce since 2019