In the last few years we have experienced a simplification of the role rail transport can play in the future, by identifying it with high-speed passenger services. It is most attractive to invest in actions that dramatically reduce passenger train travel times and that contribute to improving passenger journey conditions, even if their economic justification is dubious.
Within this context, the European Union has established nine European corridors (the TEN-T Core Network) in which it will invest and which will constitute the basis of a trans-European transport network for travellers and freight.
This has been great news which, from now on, must be fulfilled in investments and management actions in order to lay the foundations for a great European transport network. One of these new corridors, number 6, is the Mediterranean Corridor which goes from the south of the Iberian Peninsula to Budapest and which aims to be the infrastructure that opens up central and northern Europe to freight from the south. It is another great piece of news, even more so when the Mediterranean ports are integrated in RFC6.
But it is not enough. When a multimodal transport operator sets out to launch a rail freight transport service between the Iberian Peninsula and any point in Europe, they still find a host of barriers to overcome:
- South of Barcelona there is no international gauge and, therefore, neither the fleet of European freight vans nor locomotives can be used.
- The terminals connected to the international gauge network are only Morrot and the Port of Barcelona. It is very important for other terminals, such as Vilamalla or the Port of Tarragona, to also have a connection to the international gauge network and thereby be able to add them to the options for being service terminals with the rest of Europe.
- On the Barcelona-Perpignan line we find three different signalling systems, and three different electrical voltages. The result is that there are only four pairs of locomotives in the world that can operate this line, all of them belonging to RENFE Operadora (that is, in fact a monopoly), and other companies (operators or rentals of mobile material) are not showing much interest in investing in locomotives that can only be used for this line.
- Signalling issues, not identified either in the project or in the works on the new line, limit the length of trains to less than 500 m, with the subsequent loss of competitiveness (in France they make trains 750 m long and test trains 1,250 m long, in the US they reach over 3,000 m in length).
- Overcoming these barriers does not require great investments, if they are compared to investments in new high-speed lines, wherefore this requires attention and prioritising.
It is necessary to focus the attention of the Mediterranean Corridor on multimodal logistics and to carry out the investments that will make rail freight transport competitive. The Catalan ports need it in order to expand their hinterland; export companies need it so as to expand their markets to Northern and Eastern Europe; the Catalan economy needs it to convert logistics into a driver of economic growth and job generation.
In this regard, it is necessary to do something more than place the production means for rail freight transport in a competitive situation. It is necessary that rail freight transport draws closer to the market in an efficient way in order to identify the logistics requirements of prospective customers and to attempt to design multimodal solutions (in collaboration with the other actors in the logistic sector: freight forwarders, road transport companies) which will improve the three factors that determine customer choice (reliability, price, and transit time, in whatever order you like).
And this is what the Multimodal Services Committee – which FGC actively participates in– has done: find out customers’ needs (with CIAC, with CHEMMED, with INNOVAC, with RAILGRUP) in order to attempt to launch services in the Mediterranean Corridor (for instance, a train of cars and components between Catalonia and Germany).
If we are able to make the Mediterranean Corridor a good logistics tool, by prioritising investments that will contribute greatly to the increased competitiveness of rail freight transport, and we constitute the tools that will draw multimodal transport close to the market, we will have contributed to the economic development of Catalonia and to rebalancing the two seaboards of the European Union. It is no easy task, but we are beginning to identify what must be done so that this can become a reality.
President of Railways of the Generalitat de Catalunya