18 Aug 23

EU to make freight transport greener and “less absurd”

The European Commission has presented proposals to make freight transport by both road and rail more sustainable, more efficient, and in the words of one trade association, “less absurd”. 

The EU freight sector employs some 6 million people, and generates an annual turnover of €938 billion. It’s also responsible for 30% of transport CO2 emissions in the EU. 

Freight transport is expected to grow by around 25% by 2030, and 50% by 2050, so transformative measures are necessary to help the industry contribute to the European Green Deal target of reducing the EU’s overall transport emissions by 90% by 2050. 

Three key aims

That is why the EU’s Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy as three key aims for freight transport:

  • Double rail freight traffic by 2050;
  • Make all new heavy-duty vehicles zero-emission by 2050; and
  • Have zero-emission ocean-going vessels market-ready by 2030.

In February of this year, the Commission proposed new CO2 standards for trucks and buses, aiming for 100% zero-emission buses by 2030, and a 90% reduction of emissions by new heavy goods vehicles by 2040. 

Stronger incentives

This second batch of proposals aims to reduce freight emissions by better rail infrastructure management, stronger incentives for low-emission trucks, and better information on greenhouse gas emissions by the freight industry. 

  • Better cross-border coordination will help improve rail infrastructure management. Current rules on rail capacity management are set annually, manually, and nationally. This causes delays for cross-border rail traffic. That is especially poignant since around 50% of all rail freight in the EU crosses national borders. 
  • E-trucks are heavier due to the size of the battery, so the proposed new Weights and Dimensions Directive will allow additional weight for trucks using zero-emission technology. This will incentivize the take-up of cleaner vehicles. As technology advances and e-trucks get lighter, they will benefit by having additional payload.
  • The Commission proposes a common methodology for companies to calculate their greenhouse gas emissions, based on the recently adopted ISO/CEN standard. 

Maximum 40 tons

The proposal also clarifies the use of heavier and longer vehicles in cross-border traffic, removing what Belgian haulage association Febetra calls an “absurdity” from the EU rulebook. 

Under national rules, trucks in both Belgium and France are allowed a maximum weight of 44 tons. However, current EU rules stipulate that trucks crossing the border between both countries may only weigh 40 tons. Removing this limitation will make international transport more efficient and sustainable.

Specifically, the use of longer and heavier trucks, the so-called European Modular Systems (EMS, pictured), will now be allowed in international operations between member states that allow them internally; and without a restriction on them crossing only one border. As a result, the same amount of cargo can be transported in fewer trips. 

Intermodal transport

All proposed changes will now be considered by the European Parliament and the European Council. Additionally, the European Commission will revise the Combined Transport Directive to make intermodal transport more competitive. 

Says Frans Timmermans, Executive VP in charge of the European Green Deal: “(These) proposals will help to get more zero-emission trucks on the road and make sure that this freight is handled in the most sustainable way possible, whether it travels by truck, train or barge."

Image: Febetra

Authored by: Frank Jacobs