Business insights

A new, holistic and pan-European approach for freight transport

A new, holistic and pan-European approach for freight transport

Dirk Stahl, President ERFA-European Rail Freight Association and CEO BLS Cargo AG, explains the pivotal role of Switzerland in the European freight transport, describing its strength points and the initiatives the Confederation has set up to help the sector grow and become one of the game-changers in combating climate change; in addition, he enlightens us on how DAC can accelerate the whole transformation process, only if implemented internationally and in a very short transition period.

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Technology, commitment and partnerships can support the shift from road to rail with important benefits both for the climate, the market and institutions.

What is Switzerland’s unique role in the world of rail freight transport?

As Switzerland is situated in the centre of Europe, it traditionally has to deal with one of the largest transport flows in Europe from ARA harbours and from Germany to Italy. Because of the importance to protect the Alps the Swiss decided to have a modal shift target enshrined in its constitution. Since 2000,Dirk Stahl, President ERFA-European Rail Freight Association and CEO BLSCargo AG Switzerland has been investing large sums in rail freight measures and rail infrastructure in order to sustainably shift traffic from road to rail. This strategy comprises 4 pillars: market opening and competition, road toll, subsidies in combined transport and infrastructure investments (NRLA).

As this strategy has been very effective rail freight accounts for 75% of all transalpine goods transported via Switzerland. So from my perspective Switzerland has an important role not only for its concrete national situation, but can also serve as an important test field for rail freight measures and a successful transport policy. I think it can be and is a good role model for other countries and EU transport policy. As President of ERFA in Brussels I try to play my role to transfer the Swiss experience to European policy makers and the EU Commission.

What part do you see rail freight playing in combating climate change? How can the shift from road to rail be prioritized and made faster?

Rail plays an important role in addressing the climate crisis. Without the targeted increase of modal share of rail freight of 30% in 2030 we will never achieve the climate goals. Rail freight transport causes 9 times less CO2 emissions per tonne than road freight transport. The shift from road to rail could be further increased if the rail freight corridors are developed throughout Europe with uniform parameters. These include uniform train safety systems (ETCS), maximum train lengths of 750 meters and a corner height of 4m so that high-profile containers can be transported by rail. Furthermore rail needs redundant corridors in order to be able to run if one train route is blocked. So overall a harmonised Single European Aera with sufficient and guaranteed infrastructure slots for rail freight is key. The open market of state-owned railway undertakings as well as independent and private challengers works and contributes to a competitive rail freight market in which customers can choose between different actors and the market dynamics supports innovation and further investment in rolling stock as well as in digitization. 

What is the role of DAC in railway freight processes and why is this important?

DAC will bring the greatest benefits to single wagonload traffic. Today, shunting and coupling trains involves a lot of manual work, which in the future can be done digitally with DAC more easily, efficiently and safely. It can also alleviate the labour market situation of shunting staff, which can become scarce in the coming years. For DAC to achieve its full effect, however, it must be implemented internationally and in a very short transition period. This is a huge challenge and a big investment. And it can only be brought to success if full public funding is secured as this big transformation in short time of some thousand locos and around 250.000 waggons cannot be financed by the sector itself. 

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Francesco Moretti - Fincons Group Francesco Moretti

Fincons Group

Group Deputy CEO and CEO International