New French freight coalition targets upsurge in rail freight volumes


A new coalition of participants in France’s rail freight sector is targeting the doubling of rail freight volumes in the country by 2030 as a means of supporting sustainable economic development.

4F, or French Rail Freight of the Future, says that with an average annual share of overland freight volumes of 9-10%, French rail freight has stagnated compared with other European countries, notably Italy (14%), Germany (18%), Austria (32%) and Switzerland (35%).

4F says the rail freight sector proved its robustness and efficiency at proving essential transport services during the coronavirus pandemic. As France enters a period of recovery, the coalition says it wants to position rail freight as a participant in this process as well as in long-term plans to reduce carbon emissions.

The coalition says its ambition is to double rail freight’s current market share in France to 18% by 2030, which is consistent with similar initiatives underway across Europe, notably the Rail Freight Forward coalition, which is targeting a 30% market share by 2030, up from 18% at present.

«This catching up would avoid an excessive gap between France and the most advanced European countries in this area, and would constitute tangible progress to better reconcile the economy and ecology,» the coalition said in a press statement. «The time has come to take alternative measures to the eco-tax, valuing the ecological contribution of rail to markets and logistics.»

To achieve this target, the coalition says mobilisation is required on three fronts:

  • rail freight operators must be willing to innovate and take entrepreneurial risks to win back freight in France
  • SNCF Network must, in conjunction with these operators, prioritise quality of service and invest in network upgrades, and
  • the French state must back rail freight and help improve its competitiveness as a key component of a sustainable supply chain.

4F comprises rail freight operators, multimodal logistics companies, and domestic rail associations. Infrastructure manager SNCF Network is also a participating body. The members have met several times in recent weeks to prepare for the end of the Covid-19 crisis and have prioritised actions required at each of these levels to facilitate the development of an effective rail freight sector, which is competitive in the medium-term.

To develop rail freight services, 4F is targeting a tripling of available transport services by combining road, rail, maritime and inland waterways to develop a greener logistics chain. At the public authority level, the coalition is calling for an increase in investment in sustainable transport, support for single wagon load freight services, subsidies for track access charges paid by rail freight operators, and investments to upgrade national infrastructure as well as key branch lines which serve specific industries.

«A plan to revive rail freight from the state and Europe, and related by the regions, is a strong political signal that markets and territories are waiting for,» 4F says.

A comprehensive plan for reviving the sector in France is set to be presented to the state by the end of this month.

4F Alliance members

  • Rail freight companies: Fret SNCF, DB Euro Cargo Rail, VFLI, Europorte, Lineas, RegioRail, Millet Rail
  • Multimodal transport operators: Novatrans, Naviland Cargo, T3M, Froidcombi; the VIIA rail motorway operator, Forwardis; local rail operators under the guise of the Objectif OFP association
  • Associations: the French Rail Association (AFRA); the National Group of Combined Transport (GNTC); the French Association of Wagon Keepers (AFWP): Association of Freight Transport Users (AUTF); Federation of Industries Railways (FIF); Union of Transport and Logistics Companies of France (TLF); Syndicate of Railway Works Contractors of France (VFF); French Association of Independent Railway Infrastructure Managers (AFGIFI); the Committee for the European connection Transalpine; and France Logistique 2025, a initiative of the French Ministry of Ecological and Solidarity Transition.
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