AS EUROPE’s railways cast around for the best structures to manage and operate international freight trains, evidence suggests that rail is at long last starting to increase its share of the freight market in Western Europe, with cross-border tonnage showing significant growth. The European Council of Ministers of Transport reports that 1997 saw rail tonne-km increase by 8·6% compared to 1996, while road grew by only 3·1% against a total increase in land transport of 4·7%.

UIC statistics quoted by the Community of European Railways (EU plus Norway and Switzerland) reveal that international rail freight rose by 25% between 1993 and 1997 to reach 108·6 billion tonne-km. The first nine months of 1998 saw this trend continue, with a further year-on-year rise of 5·7% continuing the growth that CER reported last year (RG 10.98 p627).

Even more encouraging is a report from Eurostat, the EU’s statistics office, which has identified a shift in the type of freight being transported by rail towards manufactured goods, which are more demanding in terms of service quality than bulk commodities.