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Sunday, May 29, 2022
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What if trucks were trains?

The Spanish train is still waiting for its revolution. The problems of the railroad are not limited to poor communication between cities and the difficulties that citizens have to face when moving around the map. Rail freight transport is perhaps the most neglected piece of public policy that has been promoted by various governments for decades. So much so that the road is the main and dominant artery for the movement of goods, as 95.7% of journeys are made by trucks or vans, while trains carry only 4.1% of goods in the country. Ministry of transportation.

Spain is at the bottom of Europe, with an average share of rail transport of 16.8%, according to Eurostat data for 2020. Only Ireland and Greece have worse data with 0.8% and 3.2% respectively. In a situation marked by rising fuel prices, the challenge to make a difference seems to be coming to the fore, and the government is hard at work – thanks in part to support from European funds – to add train weight to the state’s logistics system. Climatic reasons are another driver, as rail is the mode of transport that, according to the European Environment Agency, emits the least CO2 emissions into the atmosphere.

Xavier FloresSecretary General of Infrastructure Ministry of transportation, points out to Público the importance of reversing bad data and diagnoses the reasons that led to Spain being placed at the very bottom of the EU. “There is no single explanation,” he says. “You can mention the limitations of the infrastructures themselves or the lack of intermodal terminals for unloading and transporting goods,” he explains. “We have a very competitive road transport that has been able to adapt and absorb the market, in addition to an industrial sector that is lighter than in other European countries and much more dispersed, as well as the lack of a common culture in these matters,” he admits.

Flores and his cabinet are struggling to implement the plan – Mercancías 30 – which is gradually shifting the transport of consumer goods to the train. The idea of ​​the government is that at the end of the decade the state has a quota of 10% and is approaching the EU average. In other words, by 2030 rail logistics should grow by about 150%. This strategy is going build new intermodal stations in cities and ports, investments in railroads and trains, and for “eco-incentives” that force companies to choose locomotives over vans. Thus, companies that annually increase rail transportation by 8% will receive financial support. “It’s a way of rewarding those who contribute to improving performance and accelerating change,” he adds.

“Everyone agrees that the railway is good, now we need to make it competitive”

“It is imperative that this situation be resolved now,” says Juan López de Uralde, federal coordinator Green Alliance and MP for United We Can. “Given the price of fuel, something urgently needs to be changed. Road transport cannot remain a priority,” defends the environmental politician, who has asked the government to boost ambitions to decarbonize freight transport with the train as support. tool.

History of failures

While the leadership is showing a willingness to change with this plan and the economic opportunities associated with it, the past shows that this is not the first time the government has failed. The first step was taken in 2005 with the entry into force of Law No. 39/2003 on the railway sector, which liberalized freight transport. Since then, the share of the private sector has increased to 33% of the transport market share, but the volume of freight remains at a very low level compared to Europe. In fact, the tons distributed annually by the state-owned rail network have declined over the past five years, in part due to the gradual closure of coal-fired power plants, which had a significant weight in the rail market. According to the Spanish Observatory of Transport and Logistics (OTLE), in 2015 the train carried 28,450 tons per year, while in 2020 the figure was 17,681 tons per year.

“The apple is environmentally friendly, not only because of how it is grown, but also because of how it is transported to cities.”

Each leader has left his mark with plans aimed at reviving rail logistics. Strategic plan for the development of railway transport for 2010; Spain Logistics Strategy 2013; Infrastructure and transport plan for 2012-2014; o Transport and Infrastructure Innovation Plan 2018-2020 are one of the successive unsuccessful attempts of the Administration bring Spain closer to Europe.

This time around, the recovery funds coming out of Brussels are a boost of hope, in addition to the cultural change itself, which is forcing companies to bet on a more sustainable value chain. Here is how the secretary general of the Ministry of Infrastructures understands it: “The search for products with a zero carbon footprint will force the railway to become an option. The apple is ecological not only because of the way it is transported to the cities. Whoever says an apple says any other product.”

Final change?

However, civil society still shows certain suspicions and mistrust towards this executive branch, as well as towards the previous ones. “There is still a delusion. That is, the ministry continues to think that a universal mode of freight transport is on the way,” condemns José Luis Ordoñez, a spokesman for the ministry. State Coordinator for Public, Social and Sustainable Train. This activist believes that the government’s strategy, which “comes from good intentions”, is insufficient and isolated from the rest of the mobility policy promoted by the cabinet. Rachel Sanchez. The xCuenca project (which will leave twenty cities on the Valencia-Cuenca-Madrid line non-stop) is one of the reasons the railroad’s advocacy groups are suspicious.

Ordoñez, whose platform represents dozens of public and local organizations, believes Spain has a “conceptual” problem with the functionality of the railway. This refers to the strong funding that high speed has received for decades and the abandonment of conventional networks. “The idea that the new lines should be exclusively for people directly collides with the social and industrial reality of the country. The speed boost that high speed gives makes it feel like it doesn’t matter in freight train transport,” he says.

“Too many opportunities for road transport”

López de Uralde shares the results of the analysis and also points to the weight of trucks in this sector. “There are too many opportunities for road transport,” the politician says. The difference between paying for the use of infrastructure is perhaps most obvious in that motorways and public motorways, unlike what is happening in Europe, still do not charge user fees related to content. “No restrictive measures and that they manage to promote transport by train,” he emphasizes. “When something is proposed in this direction, everyone jumps on it and the right comes out with a basket to try to get votes.”

This time, the government is aiming to silence criticism with good results and prevent another strategy from remaining a dead letter. “This is not a typical plan that is being drawn up, and perhaps in the future it will be implemented. We are already doing it,” he says. “$60 million has already been approved to increase the use of the train.”so that companies that increase trade every year receive payment for the transported ton, he emphasizes. This is the first step towards turning trucks into railways. The time and will of the Spanish executive will determine whether Spain will reach the end of the decade, as it did, at the bottom of Europe, or succeed in turning the tide of chronicity.


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