European Rail Stakeholders Urge Reduction in Rail Tolls to Foster Sustainable Travel

A consortium of European rail and transport organizations have come together to pen a joint letter calling for the reduction of rail tolls across the continent. The signatories of this directive include ALLRAIL, Continental Rail Solution, FlixTrain, Hourrail!, RegioJet, Snälltåget, Trainline, and the environmental advocacy group T&E. This collective action underscores the growing concern over the competitive disadvantage that rail travel faces against other modes of transport, such as air travel and personal vehicles, which are widely recognized for their greater environmental impact.

The letter puts forth a compelling argument based on the urgency to mitigate climate change and adhere to the goals of the Paris Agreement. It emphasizes the need for a modal shift towards rail travel, which is significantly less carbon-intensive than flying. With the European Commission’s intention to substantially increase high-speed rail traffic over the next few decades, the signatories highlight the crucial role of pricing in influencing consumer transport choices.

Rail tolls, also known as track access charges (TACs), are identified as a major component of the cost structure for train operators. These charges are imposed by rail infrastructure managers for the usage of tracks and contribute to the maintenance and operational costs of the rail network. The letter points out that these tolls can account for a substantial portion of a railway operator’s expenses, ranging from 12% to 40%.

The signatories call for specific actions to be taken by European Member States and the European Commission. They advocate for a reduction in rail tolls for high-capacity trains to encourage better load factors and for trains operating at night or crossing borders. Additionally, the letter suggests a revision of the Single European Railway Area Directive to incentivize lower tolls for such services, beyond the scope of upcoming guidelines.

Using Germany as a case study, the letter expresses concern over the high proportion of mark-ups in rail tolls, which act as a barrier for new market entrants and limit the expansion of services. In contrast, the letter cites Italy’s experience, where a reduction in rail tolls led to an increase in services and network usage, benefiting operators, infrastructure managers, and passengers alike.

The alliance acknowledges that reducing rail tolls might necessitate temporary state compensation until additional revenue streams from new services can offset the infrastructure managers’ costs. Reports by organizations such as Back-on-Track indicate that the financial support required would be minimal. Furthermore, the letter references studies showing that cutting rail tolls, along with VAT for night trains, could lead to a significant reduction in ticket prices.

In summary, this joint letter represents a concerted effort by major European rail stakeholders to advocate for legislative changes that would make rail travel more competitively priced. By lowering the cost barrier, the signatories aim to foster a transition towards more sustainable transportation modes, thereby supporting the European Union’s broader environmental objectives.