Rail firms call for sustainable transport shift

Study finds external costs of European transport equal 10% of GDP, most from road transport

The external costs of western European transport are equal to 10% of the region's GDP, according to a study released by international and European rail industry associations, 90% of them due to road transport. The Community of European Railways (CER) called for "action now" to shift passengers and freight from road to rail. It predicted that external costs would rise by another 40% by 2010 unless steps were taken to place transport on a more sustainable footing.

It should be a priority, CER said, to internalise external costs quickly and at the same time for all transport modes. It called for an EU-wide approach to investment in transport and infrastructure systems; targeting "flashpoint" areas, such as heavy-traffic corridors, in order to establish a charging system and encourage cleaner forms of transport; and introducing immediate infrastructure access charges for all forms of transport. It added that costs could be tackled through tax measures for different types of transport on the basis of environmental impact, and tradable pollution permits.

External costs measured in the CER report are accidents, congestion and environmental impacts, including air pollution, climate change risks and noise. Excluding congestion, it calculates average 1995 external costs of passenger transport per thousand passenger kilometres as euros 87 for private cars, euros 38 for buses and euros 20 for rail. For freight, measured per thousand tonne kilometres, the report puts costs at euros 205 for air, euros 88 for road and euros 19 for rail.

Europe's road transport industry, which is engaged in a long-running battle with rail firms over relative environmental impacts, has reacted sceptically to the report. German road haulage association BGL said today that the CER's analysis of external costs was incomplete, adding that it failed to take into account the road sector's improved green record in Germany through improved technologies and lower fuel consumption.

Follow Up:
CER, tel: +32 2 525 9070; {BGL} (www.bgl-ev.de), tel: +49 69 79190.

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