Technical and administrative barriers for rail traffic

Studies assume that goods traffic will continue to grow steadily until the year 2020 despite the economic crisis. At the same time, transport distances will grow longer each year. For example, as European ports continue to grow increasingly important, so will the transport volume between coastal states and the interior. For rail traffic, this poses both challenges and opportunities. Efficient management of the increasing flow of goods within the European Union requires seamless cross-border traffic, but technical and administrative barriers continue to exist.

Modal split in freight transport

Source: EU energy and transport in figures 2009

According to one hypothesis, freight always seeks the most economical transport solution. Consequently, the decline in rail transport’s share of overall traffic in the EU points to clear economic disadvantages with rail transport, especially in comparison with road transport (see table). The percentage of freight transported by rail can be even smaller depending on the particular route. 

For example, only five percent of Poland’s east-west transport is currently by rail. The reasons (especially in the case of cross-border transport) become clear in a comparison with road transport.

Overview of barriers

Technical barriers

Commercial and
administrative barriers

Different energy systems

Different signal systems

Different track gauges

Different structure clearance

 Different radio systems

Different signal images

Different pantograph widths

Different regulations regarding
  train criteria

Different languages

Different railway-specific
  operating regulations

Different safety requirements

Different systems for dispatching
  and for tracking & tracing

Different rate structures

Poorly coordinated national
  homologation processes

Four incompatible track gauges

Possible solutions include the use of variable-gauge bogies, which are mainly used on trainsets and freight cars, and exchanging locomotives.

Five incompatible voltage systems

The problem of five incompatible voltage systems can be solved using multisystem locomotives equipped with power electronics. This requires that locomotive manufacturers have an intelligent multisystem concept.

More than 20 incompatible train protection systems

The EU has already developed a solution to this problem – ERTMS* corridors. This solution requires that locomotive manufacturers provide intelligent train protection concepts for now and for the future.

* European Rail Traffic Management System.

Capacity bottlenecks on the existing infrastructure

There are various instances of capacity bottlenecks on the existing infrastructure, including congested lines as well as insufficient capacities in terminals. In Germany, for example, these include:

  •  Rhine corridor 

  • Frankfurt – Wurzburg – Nuremberg – Passau

  • Busy lines from port of HamburgText

Some possible solutions:

  • Build new (lines, terminals, etc.)

  • Expand (lines, terminals, etc.)

  • Divert traffic to other lines

  • Separate freight traffic from passenger traffic (see New Opera project)

  • Increase capacity by increasing train frequency (moving block)

  • Increase train length and gross hauled tonnage

Implication for locomotive manufacturers is to enable longer trains by means of:

  • high traction power rating

  • high transmissible tractive effort

  • intelligent slip control

  • multiple unit capability

  • possibility of using central buffer coupling for long trains

Other technical barriers

Source: TREND project

Other technical differences between the individual countries include structure clearance gauge, permitted axle load, train weights and train lengths. The diagram presents an example based on a direct line from Frankfurt/Oder to Madrid.

Administrative barriers

Complex customs and safety requirements, national homologation requirements and language barriers are all barriers to cross-border transport. Solutions include intergovernmental agreements, cross-acceptance agreements and locomotive driver training. Locomotive manufacturers with international experience and accreditation expertise can be of tremendous help to operators. Also advantageous: Multilingual displays and standardized driver’s cabs.