Joint Letter Urges EU Commission to Halt Investigations and Support Rail Freight

23 Oct 2023

A coalition of European Parliament members and trade unions, including ETF and its affiliates (EVG, CGT Cheminots, CFDT Cheminots and UNSA Ferroviaire), have jointly penned a letter to the European Commission, expressing their grave concerns about ongoing investigations into rail freight operators of France and Germany, and calling for decisive action to support the rail freight sector’s growth and sustainability.

The letter, addressed to Executive Vice President Šefčovič, Commissioner Reynders, and Commissioner Valean, highlights the urgency of addressing the climate crisis. It underscores the alarming rise in greenhouse gas emissions within the transport sector, particularly a shocking 7.2% increase in the first quarter of 2023, as reported by Eurostat. This surge in emissions, despite growing awareness of climate change, necessitates swift and effective measures.

The authors of the letter commend the Commission’s objective to double the share of rail freight by 2050 as outlined in the Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy. Rail freight is hailed as a key solution for decarbonizing transport, emitting nine times less CO2 than road freight. However, the letter also raises significant concerns regarding the approach taken by the Commission to achieve this goal.

Specifically, the letter references ongoing investigations into potential illegal state aids against two major European rail freight operators, DB Cargo and Fret SNCF. These investigations have already resulted in restructuring plans in Germany and the announced liquidation of Fret SNCF in France, putting thousands of jobs at risk. Furthermore, the lack of consultation with representative trade unions in both countries has exacerbated the situation.

The potential repercussions of these actions are dire. They risk pushing the rail sector towards a modal shift from rail to road, which would have disastrous consequences for the environment and European workers. In Germany alone, the restructuring of the single wagonload sector could lead to 40,000 additional heavy goods vehicles on the roads daily. In France, the future of the 23 dedicated trains left by Fret SNCF is uncertain, jeopardizing approximately 20% of its turnover.

The letter emphasizes the need for long-term vision and planning in the rail freight sector and argues against further privatization, which could fragment the sector and undermine its growth potential. It also highlights the social and environmental benefits of rail freight, saving the French government an estimated €10 billion in negative externalities.

In conclusion, the European Parliament members and trade unions call upon the Commission to cease the ongoing investigations into rail freight operators and declare rail freight as a service of general interest, allowing Member States to provide vital support for the sector’s ecological transition. This unified appeal represents a significant step toward securing the future of rail freight in Europe and combating the climate crisis.