CZ/SK verze

Rail Freight Concerns: Study Highlights Risks of EU Truck Regulation Changes

Rail Freight Concerns: Study Highlights Risks of EU Truck Regulation Changes
photo: Kyler Storm / Flickr/Railway tracks
12 / 01 / 2024

As the EU institutions are debating the European Commission’s proposal to amend the Directive governing the Weights and Dimensions of commercial road vehicles (96/53), CER, ERFA, UIC, UIP and UIRR presented yesterday a joint study, carried out by the consultants d-fine GmbH, on the impacts of the Commission’s proposal.

The study confirms the concerns of the rail freight industry. Should the Commission’s proposal be enacted without substantial changes, the proposed measures would have disastrous consequences from a socio-economic and sustainability perspectives: 

  • Allowing the cross-border circulation of European Modular System (EMS) trucks might entail lower freight rates on the currently dominant low-density high-volume freight market, which is the segment projected to grow most dynamically over the coming decades for all land transport modes. However, operational efficiency improvement for trucks should not only translate to lower freight rates, but also simultaneously produce meaningful progress towards the EU Green Deal’s policy goals and a reduction of inland freight transport’s externalities (decarbonisation, energy efficiency, air quality, noise, accidents, congestion).

  • The proposed increase in the permissible gross weight of trucks and the authorisation of EMS would lead on average to a reverse modal shift of up to 21 % for all rail segments and 16 % for combined transport. This could result in up to 10.5 million additional truck journeys per year, emitting up to 6.6 million tonnes of additional CO2 emissions and generating additional external costs amounting up to €2.2 billion. More than €1.15 billion extra tax payer funding per year would be needed for road infrastructure maintenance.
  • Although they are designed and labelled to serve the interests of intermodal freight transport, most of the measures are impractical, ineffective, or unnecessary. 

The damage caused by the Commission’s amendment proposal is linked to the expected widespread use of EMS trucks, or gigaliners, which would come as a result. A tripling of external costs would dramatically outweigh the potential CO2 savings of less than 10% per-vehicle. Additionally, the reduction in operating costs per tonne-kilometre or per m3-kilometre of up to 25 % would outperform door-to-door combined transport, even though it operates with an up to 90% smaller carbon-footprint and brings an energy efficiency that is up to 70% better than trucks.

Three aspects of the amendment proposal were assessed in detail: 

  • The impact on door-to-door combined transport operations 
  1. None of the longer EMS combinations can be handled in combined transport without increased operational complexity,
  2. Longer semi-trailers (> 13.6 m) are technically not compatible with combined transport assets and;
  3. Longer and heavier vehicles or vehicle combinations pose operational challenges for terminal operators (parking areas, circulation, lifting capabilities) and for combined transport operators and rail freight operators (train composition).
  • The impact on the various rail freight segments such as single wagonload and full trainload traffic risk  a potential reverse modal shift up to 21 %.
  • The impact on road haulage in terms of energy efficiency and road degradation
  1. More axles potentially reduce the stress on the road infrastructure, but they also result in higher unladen weight and lower efficiency per tonne of freight.
  2. 10 trucks with 44 tonnes gross weight are more damaging than 15 trucks of 40 tonnes.

Upon evaluation of the results of the study, the commissioning associations put forward the following recommendations to the European co-legislators: 

  1. The 40-tonne gross vehicle weight limit for border crossing trucks should remain the rule between EU Member States. Exceptions should only be possible for the road legs of intermodal cross-border operations.
  2. Only zero-emission vehicles should be allowed an additional gross weight, and only as long as the energy density of the batteries requires it (assuming a 1,000 km range). 
  3. Irrespective of the introduction of the EMS, standard dimensions should be maintained for all types of loading units in order to ensure continued compatibility with different transport modes.
  4. While the introduction of longer or heavier vehicles would reduce road transport costs, the modelled reverse modal shift would lead to a drastic increase in external costs. This must therefore be taken into account when designing the measures, in order to favour other transport modes, such as rail, which offer significant advantages in terms of external costs and sustainability.


Source: CER, ERFA, UIC, UIP and UIRR Joint Press Release