Infrastructure quality and capacity represent now more than ever the triggering factor of the potential growth in volumes and scope of the railway freight transport. While the freight corridors in the European Union represent the main attraction, independent infrastructures, as well as infrastructure start points (sidings) and end points (last mile) tend to be forgotten.
Railway operators have often expressed their discontent about the lack of an approach among the decision-making European railway forums and institutions on solving the problems which challenge sidings and last mile terminals. Both infrastructure start points and end points contribute a great deal to trigger modal shift, through independent infrastructures, they ensure connectivity between the mainline corridors and at the end, via last miles, they determine very much the competitiveness of rail traction services vs. road.
Consequently, sidings, independent infrastructures and last miles are important business vectors for ports, forwarders, rail freight operators, infrastructure managers, wagon keepers and customers. They also provide for additional safety, reliability and independence regarding transport planning and are a clear asset for the environment as they help reducing the number of lorries in traffic.
There are, of course, technical, commercial and economic reasons for some rail related services to be considered essential. For instance, without traction current, an operator cannot technically run an electric train, cannot provide services to custo-
mers and therefore cannot generate revenue. Consequently railway undertakings can operate in the market only if they have both access to and use of essential rail related services. Another example, experts from the European Rail Infrastructure Managers (EIM) say is first and last miles, more precisely the availability of and non-discriminatory access to last mile infrastructure is vital for the competitiveness of rail freight. In particular, single wagonload traffic (which accounts for 40%-50% of EU rail freight) can hardly be realised without direct access to sidings.
“As a result, possible issues can include restricted use, unfair prices (excessive prices for the connection of parking spaces built by the new entrants to signalling) or lack of information on availability. Moreover, adequate quality of the service should be ensured, as the starting point (first mile) and the end point (last mile) tend to be neglected if not used by incumbent railway anymore”, EIM representatives say.
On the other hand, experts from the International Union of Railways believe, the availability of private sidings has a direct impact on freight traffic volumes transported by rail. In the past the number of private sidings has decreased in nearly all European rail networks. This process depends mainly on the financial framework for private sidings with regard to internal provisions of infrastructure managers, on the one hand, and the availability of national and international funding programs, on the other hand.