Duisburg (Photo: DB).

Duisburg (Photo: DB).

EUROPE: The European Rail Freight Association has reiterated its belief that reducing track access charges would be the best way of supporting the rail freight sector through the pandemic in a transparent and non-discriminatory manner, rather than providing direct support for individual operators. It warned that caution was needed to ensure that direct support for incumbent holding companies did not result in cross-subsidies.

ERFA said it ‘strongly supports’ Germany’s proposal to reduce freight track access charges by 98% until the end of 2021, subject to an extension of the existing amendment to the EU legal framework which currently permits this until the end of June. However it said the European Commission needed to ensure safeguards were in place to ensure that national aid for network modernisation did not lead to cross-subsidy of individual operators.

‘Where aid is granted to a holding company, it is essential for the confidence of the market that there are checks and balances to ensure that it will not undermine competition’, ERFA said, adding that it was also vital that reductions in track access charges did not result in cuts to essential infrastructure maintenance.

ERFA said ‘there should be no doubt’ that the rail freight sector was operating in an entirely different economic environment to before the pandemic, urging member states to take into account that the rail freight market was not as cost resilient as before.

‘We strongly support the path the German government has decided to take to support the entire rail freight sector’, said ERFA President, Dirk Stahl on April 23. ‘This is an important step and must form the basis of all future support measures. It sends a positive message to all private and independent operators that support measures will be fair and equally available to all rail freight operators.’