One of the spearheads in the new Mobility Strategy of the European Union is the pricing of CO2, also for transport. In addition, the proceeds from a kilometre charge for trucks should be used to improve sustainable transport, for example through investments in railways. This says Elisabeth Werner, Land Transport Director of the European Transport Directorate (DG Move).

The EU sees opportunities to achieve CO2 gains in the short term, particularly through better use of rail. “Our goal is to move a large part of road transport to inland shipping and rail. This is necessary because there is currently no zero-emission possibility for heavy cargo by road”, says Werner in a conversation with Nieuwsblad Transport. She says she does understands that for this to happen the quality, reliability and punctuality of rail freight transport must be improved.

TEN-T network

“During the Covid-19 pandemic, passenger traffic came to a complete standstill, but we suddenly saw a significant increase in freight transport by rail thanks to the extra capacity that was available. So we know that rail can grow significantly, provided the conditions are right. We will focus on that in the coming years.” For example, the EU gives priority to improving the European rail freight corridors via the TEN-T network.

“The corridors connect the hubs with each other. Operational coordination and investments are required to achieve this, for example in terms of terminals, ports, train length and weight. But also to coordinate operational matters, so that you do not have to wait an hour at the border to change the locomotive or the driver. We realise that transport still needs to grow in order to continue our European way of life. That is why we have to find ways to make it CO2 neutral., and solve challenges in regards of capacity and congestion.”

Modal shift

Governments have been trying to achieve the modal shift for years, but so far no one has succeeded: the share of road transport has always remained the same. Werner: “We don’t want to impose a modal shift, the modalities should complement each other instead of compete. We naturally want the share of rail to increase, because it is the most sustainable. That is why we want to make the use of rail cheaper, more reliable and easier. But that must come from quality and not from coercion.”

According to Herald Ruijters, director of Investment, Innovative & Sustainable Transport at DG Move, Rail can increase its capacity in the short term, for example by introducing ERTMS and train lengths of 740 metres. “If we can also increase the frequency of rail connections, you will make great strides. Nevertheless, the modalities will indeed have to be complementary to each other.”

Theemsweg route

“Just look at the Netherlands, where a lot of goods arrive in Rotterdam. It is important to immediately put the load on the track. Because once it is on a truck, the rail mode is lost. So we need more rail and terminal capacity in the hinterland. For example, this year the Theemsweg route opens. These developments also happening in Germany. All of this together should ensure that the volume of cargo via rail increases. But it is certainly not easy.”

Elizabeth Werner is one of the speakers at the RailTech Europe 2021 digital conference, taking place from March 30 to April 1. For more information, visit