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Point of view: Equal opportunities for trains and trucks!

Jakob Dietachmair is Project Manager Climate & Energy, Transport & Mobility at CIPRA International. (c) Caroline Begle CIPRA International

224 million tonnes of goods rolled through the Alps last year, a new record – more than two thirds of it on trucks. To decrease the pressure on nature and humans along the transit axes, railways and roads have be on the same level playing field, says Jakob Dietachmair, Project Manager at CIPRA International.

Today, rail freight traffic is not competitive with road freight traffic. There are multiple reasons for this. There is a lack of incentives and subsidies. Furthermore, full internalisation of the external costs of road traffic, such as environmental and health damage, is absent. Long-distance drivers from low-wage countries are transporting goods throughout the Alps under immense time pressure and for dumping wages, which also aggravates the situation from a labour law perspective.

The Alpine countries alone will not achieve equality between railways and roads. This requires the cooperation of all: the EU, its member states and Switzerland.

Together they can revise the outdated “2008/C 184/7” guidelines on state aid to railways. Use of infrastructure, process management, reduction of external costs, sustainability and research: support mechanisms could be harmonised in all these areas, while the Alpine transit exchange called for by CIPRA and other players could finally be introduced. Under this exchange, lorry journeys through the Alps would be traded as limited goods. This makes sense as the road and rail infrastructure is already reaching its limits and cannot be expanded indefinitely.

However, two points are critical in order to achieve true equality of opportunity. The first is that uniform labour standards in road freight transport must be enforced, monitored and sanctioned. Second, external costs must be fully accounted for. Rail freight transport also generates external costs: depending on the calculation, however, such costs are at most half those of road freight transport. Only when it is no longer economically viable to cause damage to health and to the environment will there be a rethink.