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Railwatch 077 - October 1998

Europe's fair deal for rail

The European Commission is making a new attempt to tackle chronic transport problems by altering transport taxes.

The long-term aim is to devise ways of making polluting, anti-social forms of transport pay more while reducing taxes on benign modes.

The commission issued a White Paper in July explaining how it intends to achieve fair pricing in transport by using a phased approach.

Transport pricing thoughout the European Union should eventually reflect the cost of pollution, traffic congestion, accidents and wear and tear on infrastructure.

In the first phase (up to 2000) the commission will work with a panel of transport experts to devise ways of calculating the costs. Then it will develop a user pays charging system.

In the second phase (from 2001-2004), the tax framework should be implemented by member states.

In the third phase, the commission will review progress and see what more needs to be done.

Transport Commissioner Neil Kinnock said: "Until users know how much it costs to travel a particular route at a particular time and are fairly charged, transport behaviour is unlikely to change."

He estimates that the plan will save £33 billion a year.

The commission now recognises that air pollution has local, regional and global implications.

At present, 11 member countries - not Britain - attempt to level the playing field by imposing vehicle taxes of one kind or another.

The White Paper concentrates on commercial road freight transport, proposing that taxes and tolls for lorries over 12 tonnes be replaced by charges per kilometre.

But it should set a principle for charging for using roads, railways, ports and air traffic services generally.

Mr Kinnock also issued three directives to help increase competition on rail by establishing tighter rules for "allocating infrastructure capacity" and access charges as well as requiring rail companies to keep more "transparent" accounts.

He wants traffic to switch from road to rail but wants rail to be managed as efficiently as possible so money is not wasted in bureaucracy.

Transport Minister Glenda Jackson told an RDS delegation in August that in Britain grants from the new rail infrastructure fund could be made by April.

On our side, we said we were concerned that new roads were still being approved while rail schemes were effectively frozen.

She told us that she had rejected the business case for the East-West rail link for which RDS has been campaigning.

A revised business case is being prepared after she said that the capital cost of £237 million had been understated, the expected revenue overstated and there had been no proper environmental assessment of the scheme.

We had hoped that the White Paper would clear the way for schemes such as this.

One lesson to be drawn from the problems of implementing East-West now is the importance of protecting former rail lines from development.

We thanked Ms Jackson for the review in selling off BR land but said we were hoping for further action to protect former rail routes for use as rail, cycle or foot ways.

RDS has produced a five-page paper outlining what action needs to be taken to enable network development and sensible land use. We will be sending a copy to Ms Jackson.

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