Logistics industry criticises rise in track access charges in Germany

2024/04/09 at 5:34 PM

Next year, fees for access to rail infrastructure (track access charges) will increase significantly in Germany. This is the result of the withdrawal of train fare subsidies by the German federal government and the growing, necessary expenses for track renovations. Representatives of the rail freight industry fear that the rise in fares will encourage many companies to shift transport to roads.

Logistics industry criticises rise in track access charges in Germany
Source: Pixabay

Increases in fees for rail infrastructure in Germany result, on the one hand, from increasing investment expenses, which are necessary because the railway network in this country requires many urgent renovations and, on the other hand, due to financial problems of the federal budget, caused by last year’s judgment of the German Constitutional Court.

Debt brake

The government in Berlin wanted to take out the 60-billion-euro loan to finance investments in green energy and transport infrastructure. The problem is that a ban on incurring new public debts, except to cover needs resulting from emergencies, was included in the German constitution during the 2009 financial crisis. The COVID pandemic was considered such an extraordinary situation and the tribunal in Karlsruhe agreed to the German government taking out a loan to combat the effects of the pandemic. However, when it turned out that the problems caused by the COVID crisis were smaller than forecast, the government in Berlin decided to allocate some of these funds to combat the climate crisis. Changing the allocation of funds from the special purpose fund was considered a violation of the German constitution. As a result of the Court’s ruling, the German government had to carry out drastic cuts in budget expenses, which also included subsidies to fees for rail infrastructure.

Meanwhile, the infrastructure manager DB InfraGo must incur large expenses on renovations and modernisation in the coming years to maintain the smoothness of rail traffic. One of the effects of the constitutional debt brake introduced in 2009 was the reduction of state infrastructure expenditure, which, after several years, resulted in the accumulation of many problems on the German railway network, resulting in longer train journey times and sections being closed to traffic, which carriers complain about. As a result, DB InfraGo is forced to increase charges. From December 2024, the price per train-kilometre for a standard train will be 3.73 euros, i.e. 52 cents more than currently.

Higher intermodal costs

The rising costs of rail transport in Germany are passed on to customers. Since 1 April, the Danish container shipping giant Maersk introduced the nine-euro surcharges per TEU for moving boxes by rail between the Port of Rotterdam and Germany. The fee rise in Germany will also affect logistics operators from neighbouring countries, including Poland, who organise combined transport between our country and the North Sea ports.

Unfortunately, there will be a further rise in costs on German railways next year. The Federal Network Agency (BNetzA) has already approved the increase in fees for 2025. For freight trains, the increase will amount to over 16 per cent, which is criticised by representatives of both carriers and DB InfraGo itself. The head of the German rail infrastructure manager, Philip Nagl, called on the German government to implement solutions together with railwaymen to limit the disproportionate increase in costs for rail freight transport. The German logistics industry fears that rising costs will make it impossible to achieve the goal of increasing the share of rail freight transport from the current 20 to 25 per cent in 2030.

“Freight railways must fear for their existence: customers cannot be informed of sudden price increases on increasingly unreliable routes. It can be expected that more goods will be moved by truck again,” said Neele Wesseln, managing director of the Güterbahnen association, in an interview with dpa news agency.

On the other hand, the German debt brake enshrined in the constitution is increasingly criticised by economists, who believe that this provision slows down the country’s economic development. Last year, the Council of Economic Experts, which advises the chancellor, called for reform of this provision. Savings on expenses result not only in problems on the railways but also in the delay in the digitalisation of the German economy and public sector.

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