EU firms in "urgent plea" for better railways

Leading business groups say rail liberalisation is critical as obstacles to road freight transport mount

Five of the EU's biggest business and industry associations this week issued an "urgent plea" for EU action to revitalise the railways as a real option for transporting freight, citing growing obstacles to road haulage due to "traffic congestion and limitations on freight transport".

European business is "seriously concerned about the accessibility of its clients, markets and company branches," said employers confederation Unice, Eurocommerce, Eurochambres, the European Shippers Council and chemical industry association Cefic. Companies would "happily embrace rail transport as an alternative [to roads] but unfortunately it cannot rely on a properly functioning and competitive supply of rail transport services".

The call was made in a "manifesto" delivered to the European Parliament, which is fighting EU governments for greater rail liberalisation over a draft "railway infrastructure package" proposed by the European Commission. The business associations claim that liberalisation is the key to reversing a precipitous decline in rail freight transport over the last three decades - it accounted for 32% of freight in the EU-15 area in 1970, but this fell to 14% by 1996, while road freight's share climbed from 49% to nearly 74% over the same period.

Follow Up:
Unice, tel: +32 2 237 65 11, and press release. See also European Commission information on EU rail policy.

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