Reports 08 Jan 2014

Megatrucks versus rail freight?

The rail sector has long had concerns about the greater use of megatrucks (alternatively known as ‘monster-trucks’, ‘gigaliners’, or even ‘ecocombis’ by their supporters) and wants to outline, with this brochure, why attempts to further liberalise their use should be opposed. In particular, the rail sector believes that allowing any wider use of megatrucks will inevitably lead to a ‘domino effect’ and, in time, to their general use across Europe. This would, in addition, be contrary to the Commission’s own agenda for modal shift from road to rail transport, most recently set out in the 2011 Transport White Paper which stated a goal of shifting 30% of road freight to rail and inland waterways by 2030, as part of the long-term move to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport.

In June 2012, European Commissioner for Transport Siim Kallas announced he was reinterpreting Directive 96/53/EC on the weights and dimensions of vehicles to permit the cross-border use of megatrucks between two member states that approve their use within their own borders. This announcement, which reversed the position the Commission had taken on this issue since the Directive was first approved, was made despite the strong opposition of MEPs on the European Parliament’s Transport Committee, and from some member states. In April 2013, this interpretation was included in the proposal put forward by the Commission to revise the Directive 96/53/EC, finally allowing MEPs and member states to properly consider the proposal.

It is important to point out that the debate on cross-border circulation does not just concern 60-tonne trucks. If passed, the directive could permit the circulation of all trucks above 40 tonnes in weight and 18.75 metres in length if their member states agreed. It should also be noted that, for the first time, control of international transport will be passed from the European level down to that of member states. One of the rail sector’s primary political concerns is for a level playing-field and fair competition between all modes of transport. Today, such fair competition is distorted by the lack of transparency into the societal costs of each transport mode, such as pollution, noise, congestion or accidents.

It is not the intention of the rail sector to ‘blame’ the road sector for trying to improve its efficiency. However, any attempts to liberalise current restrictions on use could have major implications that would be contrary to wider EU goals. The rail sector believes that the European Commission, the European Parliament, and member states should not look at this issue in a simplistic and short-term way, but take into account the dynamic effects of megatrucks and their impact on the transport system as a whole.