Last year, freight transport by train fell by 7,5% compared to 2021. According to data on the open website of rail network manager Infrabel, it reached its lowest level in six years, with 58,3 million tons.
In 2021, freight transport by train reached its highest level in more than ten years, with almost 63 million tons. One year later, Infrabel registered a decrease of 9,5%.
According to the Belgian Rail Freight Forum, one of the explanations for the decline is the lost financial support. Federal support for combined transport – brought together from different companies to form one cargo train – was lost, amounting to 13,5 million euros annually.
Higher electricity prices
On top of that, 4 million euros of support from the Flemish government and the ports for freight shuttle trains between the ports was also stopped. As a result, the lost support led to canceled trains, higher costs for operators, and higher prices for companies. The situation did not exactly encourage companies to opt for the train.
In addition, transport by rail has become relatively more expensive than by road, as electricity prices have risen more rapidly than diesel prices, again leading to higher costs for rail operators and higher prices for their customers.
The decrease in freight transport is particularly striking because the federal government aims to double the volume of freight transport by rail by 2030. An action plan was also launched for this purpose, with measures such as eliminating delay zones on the rail network, making way for trains up to 740 meters long, or simplifying the train path system. However, the question remains whether everything is sufficiently financed.
In the short term, the sector pleads for a level playing field with road transport, which is currently more subsidized. “Those resources would be better spent to stimulate the transition from road transport to multimodal transport,” concludes Paul Hegge from the Belgian Rail Freight Forum.