EUROPE: The economic situation for EU railways shows very little sign of improvement, according to the Community of European Railway & Infrastructure Companies’ Covid Impact Tracker.

Revenues from January to May 2021 were lower across the board than in the second half of 2020, the association reported.

CER Covid-19 tracker passenger

Passenger volumes dropped by 66% from November 2020 onwards when compared to 2019 levels, and remained at this level until April 2021. May showed a slight improvement at -59%. Revenue losses remain at around 50%.

CER Covid-19 tracker freight

Freight volume data was insufficient for reporting, but for those freight operators which delivered data, revenues and volumes tended to vary in about the same proportion, by -11% on average since January 2021.

CER Covid-19 tracker infrastructure

Infrastructure managers reported that volumes almost returned to normal levels from March to May, with train-km down 2%, while revenue was down 10%. Revenues and volumes tend to vary in about the same proportion for most infrastructure managers, apart from two who have lost significantly more revenue than volumes as a result of reductions in infrastructure charges which governments have not compensated them for.

Access charges

CER has welcomed the European Commission’s decision in June to extend until the end of the year the reference period of Regulation (EU) 2020/1429, which allows member states to authorise infrastructure managers to waive, reduce or defer track access and reservation charges. It also ‘highly appreciates’ the approval by the Commission’s Directorate-General for Competition of several state aid schemes to reduce rail track access charges.

However, CER said it was important that the reduction or waiver of access charges should always be accompanied by compensation for the resulting financial losses suffered by the infrastructure managers.

‘State aid policy of the Commission should be aligned with the EU environmental objectives’, said CER Executive Director Alberto Mazzola on July 13. ‘Sectors suffering roughly the same amounts of losses in the EU as railways but which are far less environmentally friendly have received five times more state aid to mitigate the negative impacts of Covid-19 than rail. It is crucial to redress this imbalance.’