The European Green Deal calls for a substantial part of the 75% of inland freight carried today by road to be shifted onto rail and inland waterways. As part of the Commission’s policy to boost rail freight, the Regulation concerning a European Rail Network for Competitive Freight (Regulation (EU) 913/2010) requests Member States to establish international market-oriented Rail Freight Corridors (RFCs) to meet three sets of challenges. These include the strengthening of cooperation between infrastructure managers on path allocation, deployment of interoperable systems and infrastructure development; striking the right balance between freight and passenger traffic along the RFCs, while securing adequate capacity and priority for freight in line with market needs and ensuring that common punctuality targets for freight trains are met; and lastly, promoting inter-modality by integrating terminals into corridor management and development. A decade after the Regulation’s entry into force, however, the results achieved in the Member States remain insufficient, and the share of rail freight stagnates at around 18%.
The ongoing evaluation of Regulation (EU) 913/2010 is an opportunity to move away from a single corridor towards a European RFC Network approach. In order to facilitate this shift, the governance of RFCs should be reconsidered. In reality, the interaction between different stakeholders within one corridor is not always coordinated, not to mention the coordination among corridors. Digitalisation has the potential to overcome some of the inefficiencies derived from the fragmentation of European rail freight: it can facilitate the monitoring of performance in each RFC, improve the management of capacity by better coordinating the allocation of existing capacity, and empower RFCs to manage traffic, both under regular conditions but also when disruptions emerge. In addition to improving the regulatory and strategic framework, enhancing rail freight’s competitiveness calls for a rail network adapted to specific rail freight needs, which entails making the most efficient use of available funding. Against this backdrop, the 20th Florence Rail Forum, co-hosted by the Transport Area of the Florence School of Regulation and the Commission’s DG MOVE, discussed the next steps for the evaluation of Regulation (EU) 913/2010, including the role of a supranational entity in improving the performance of RFCs, and that of digitalisation in the management and operation of RFCs. Not the least, the forum sought to identify how the financing needs for the development of RFCs can be met.
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