Too many HGVs and too few trains

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For two years now, road transport has been the predominant goods transportation modality in Europe. Since 2017, 50.1% of all goods handled in the EU have travelled by road.

This is the main data that emerges from the analysis published last October by DG Move. The picture presented is far from black and white.

The railway represents 11.3% of the total amount of goods handled, while sea transport stops at 31.5%, losing almost one percentage point compared to 2016 (32.4%).

In general, after the financial crisis of 2008-2009, traffic volumes have not yet fully recovered to the levels reached over a decade ago, particularly for the rail mode.

The economy in many European countries, even if not in Italy, has surpassed the pre-crisis peaks, but the sector, perhaps due to a progressive tertiarization of the economy and therefore its “lightening” in terms of volumes, has not completely recovered.

However, Europe remains a continent with a high transport intensity: with reference to the volumes of traffic handled, we are ahead of the USA and China in terms of extension of the road and rail network, as well as the number of vehicles on the road, but other countries, and in particular the USA, manage to do better in terms of modal split.

However, the situation changes if we move on to passenger transport: the last few years have been characterized by a slow but progressive increase in rail and air transport at the expense of car use, with a share of 6.8% and 11.2% respectively in 2017.

Passengers moved 70.9% by road, a high figure but still slightly lower than in 1995 (73.3%). This is due to high-speed rail transport, which has almost doubled its frequency, and the rise of low-cost air transport

This data shows the importance of continued investment in the modernization and expansion of the infrastructure network and the liberalization of transport services. Where investments have been made and new players have entered the market, with profitable competition also between modes, the sector has managed to become more competitive, with results that are increasingly evident over time.

What about sea transport? Here too there is no other solution than to invest and link up with other modes of transport.

Intermodality is often read in an all-land perspective, and with good results (see the increase in combined transport operated by UIRR members to 75.7 billion tonne-kilometres in 2018), but it is precisely in the perspective of intra-EU trade that the efficient combination of land-based carriers with maritime transport makes it possible to respond better to customer needs. This is also because the road and rail infrastructure network suffers from obvious congestion and saturation limits. The issue of environmental sustainability raises serious questions about a model that still focuses on road transport.

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