German carriers go to court over increases in track access charges

2024/05/09 at 5:08 PM

A group of 11 freight carriers filed a lawsuit against the German government in the court in Cologne to prevent large increases in fees for access to infrastructure in this country. In December 2024, track access charges in Germany are expected to increase by 16.2 per cent.

Source: Pixabay

Freight carriers in Germany are complaining about rising electricity costs and increases in infrastructure fees, as well as the deteriorating condition of infrastructure. As a result, rail transport is less competitive compared to road transport. This problem also applies to intermodal transport, in which it is relatively easy to replace trains with trucks, which is why this type of transport is more sensitive to the deterioration of intermodal competitiveness, and it is difficult for railway carriers to pass on rising operating costs to customers. The increase in fees charged to carriers by the infrastructure manager DB InfraGO results from the reduction in subsidies from the federal budget, which the German government was forced to do last year after the judgment of the German Constitutional Court, which found that Germany’s incurring public debt to finance investments in energy and infrastructure was contrary to the constitution. Another reason for the increase in fees is the need to finance a large number of renovations on the railway network in the coming years.

As the association of freight carriers Die Güterbahnen points out, last year’s increases in infrastructure fees had a negative impact on the financial situation of railway companies. The new fee rates were even criticised by the head of DB InfraGO, Philip Nagl, who called for the introduction of solutions to compensate for the increase in costs to railway carriers. The increases are also criticised by industry organisations, which draw attention to the unequal treatment of freight and long-distance railways compared to regional passenger transport. The latter are protected from large increases by the provisions of the Railway Law passed in Germany in 2016. For this reason, freight and long-distance railways incur disproportionately higher costs of access to infrastructure. Freight carriers questioned this approach for calculating fees in a lawsuit filed with the Court of Appeal in Cologne.

Negative impact on the environment

“We have to pay much more for lower efficiency. The condition of the network has not improved and obstacles are increasing due to the increasing number of construction sites. This means that the operating costs of railway companies are rising anyway. Exploding route prices are harmful to the climate. CO2 emissions are soaring as rail’s share of the freight market falls due to soaring route prices. The lawsuit seeks to avoid this effect and strengthen the railways when politicians cannot do otherwise. Although the coalition has agreed to strengthen rail freight transport, it is increasingly weakening the competitiveness of companies”, comments Ludolf Kerkeling, CEO of Die Güterbahnen.

In late 2024, the fees incurred by freight carriers in Germany will increase from 3.21 euros per train kilometre to 3.73 euros. This will be a one-time increase in fees higher than in the last five years in the country. Unfortunately, Germany is not the only country that, contrary to the declared will of European leaders to promote sustainable rail transport, is introducing large increases in infrastructure fees, which is criticised by organisations bringing together logistics and railway companies.

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