TWO important documents on freight policy will shortly emerge from the European Commission: the Logistics Action Plan and a Communication on a European Rail Freight Network.

Keen to influence both documents, the Community of European Railways presented 'a comprehensive business case analysis' on major freight corridors to the Commission on September 11. Drawn up with the help of UIC and McKinsey & Co, the study details the investment the railways believe is required to increase rail's share of the freight market by 5%. It suggests that €145bn would lift market share to 21% or 23% by 2020, with capacity of the major corridors rising by 72%. The money would alleviate bottlenecks, expand and improve the network of freight terminals and allow longer trains to be run. CER also proposed that Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot hold 'ministerial conferences' for each of six corridors to 'gain commitment by the Member States at the highest level'.

CER believes the most cost-effective way of enhancing capacity is to increase train length to 750 m or 1?000 m as this would cut unit costs and raise productivity, generating an 11% increase in capacity for an outlay of €4·35bn. While its corridors study has a whiff of earlier begging bowl policies, anything that would raise productivity is welcome in the battle to regain market share from road.

The spectre of longer and heavier lorries on EU roads has not vanished, although a vote by the European Parliament on September 5 would require Member States to obtain explicit permission to allow mega-trucks on specific domestic routes. This was welcomed by the CER, but EIM was more cautious, warning that 'road transport will be given a boost to the detriment of rail freight … due to the increased competitiveness of these 60 tonne lorries'.

There is already a commitment at national level in some countries to boost capacity on rail corridors linking ports to the industrial hinterland. In Germany, a 'master plan' for rail traffic from ports was unveiled in Hamburg on September 7. This is to be fed into a national master plan for freight and logistics which is being drawn up by the federal transport ministry.