‘ProRail wants to freeze track access charges for five years’
A new method for calculating track access charges is currently being assessed by the Dutch Authority for Consumers & Markets (ACM). One of the suggestions that infrastructure manager ProRail has included in this proposal is freezing track access charges for a period of five years, explains Wouter van Dijk, Director of Transport and Timetabling at ProRail. “This will allow us to offer rail operators more stability.”
The Dutch government recently implemented European rules that will make it possible to apply mark-ups and extra charges when calculating track access charges. The mark-ups are a sort of bonus and penalty system. With them, operators will be stimulated to use quieter locomotives and railway cars, for example, to improve their usage of the track, or to run on cleaner fuels.
Calculating access charges
The Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management tasked ProRail with applying extra charges when calculating access charges. This includes conducting a ‘what the market can bear’ test. The ACM is going to assess this test and the new method of calculating the extra charges. In addition, ProRail has drawn up a new method for calculating the minimum access package (VMT). If the market authority gives the green light, the new calculation method can be applied from 2020.
Van Dijk: “Currently we only apply the VMT and a few mark-ups. We will soon add the performance rule to this. Not much will change in terms of the total track access charges in the short-term. However, the new method for calculating the VMT, the mark-ups and the extra charges will be different.”
Master plan for freight transport
Following Germany, the Dutch rail sector is busy working on a Master Plan for Rail Freight Transport, aiming to boost the competition position of rail freight transport. This includes a recommendation for lowering track access charges.
The German master plan proposes halving track access charges for rail freight transport. France has similar plans. This will have far-reaching consequences for the freight sector and Dutch ports.
The Dutch government’s coalition agreement outlines the cabinet’s intention to bring track access charges in line with neighbouring countries. However, according to Van Dijk, a reduction of fifty per cent would not be so easy at the moment. “Germany wants to remove the mark-ups, so the total will drop by forty to fifty per cent. The Netherlands does not have this option, because we are yet to apply mark-ups.” In Van Dijk’s eyes, it is up to the ministry to decide how to deal with this.
Van Dijk emphasises that, although the European Union is aiming to achieve more harmonisation with the new rules, the differences in the calculations made in the various member states are still very large. “Each country has its own interpretation in terms of setting the VMT. We do it very carefully, as we are being monitored by the ACM.”
“In Germany, other methods are used to calculated the access charges. What is not known is the extent to which the VMT applied in Germany is a reflection of the true costs of the track.”
The Dutch rail sector is also set up differently to those in Germany and France, adds Van Dijk. “In Germany, DB Netz, DB Cargo and the passenger transport from DB are all under the same holding company. This is also true for France. I’m not sure how the allocation is done,” he says, “so it’s possible that we don’t know all the details about how track access charges are calculated elsewhere.”
Applying track access charge calculation
Swiss railway infrastructure manager SBB is applying track access charge calculations in a very detailed way: high access charges for track bends and tunnels, and charging for the wear and tear on the track according to train type, the environmental effects of the fuel used and the level of noise pollution.
The Netherlands will not apply such a comprehensive system of mark-ups. “The extra charges will primarily be levied for issues such as vibrations, noise and damage to the environment,” says Van Dijk. “Utilisation of the infrastructure will play an important role, because the Dutch rail network is getting ever busier. If we can stimulate more efficient use of the network, we will probably have to build less infrastructure.”
However, Van Dijk does not believe in financial incentives for transporting dangerous substances on the Betuweroute. “Of course we would prefer dangerous substances to be transported via the Betuweroute, but we can’t force operators to do this. For some, going via this route would require a big detour. A small discount would not make a difference.”
International rail conference
On 4-5 April, the international rail sector will come together in Amsterdam for the Track Access Charges Summit 2018, where track charges will be discussed. During this conference, Van Dijk will call for greater European harmonisation. “It should not be the case that as soon as a freight train goes over the border, a totally different regime applies. And every country has a regulator who carries out the assessment in a different way. It would be good if there were more common agreements in this regard.”
“Track access charges are an important topic in Europe. This conference is the only platform where you can have a proper discussion about the specifics of the charges. It is a place where all professionals dealing with this issue can meet and exchange their extensive expertise.”