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Published: 20 October 2014      

Addressing combi woes in France

Delphine André
Problems of the sector were aired at GNTC's annual meting last week in Paris

The General Meeting of France's combined transport umbrella group (GNTC), held last week in Paris, witnessed, as expected, a general condemnation of the government's decision to reduce the piggyback (bottom lift) handling subsidy for swap bodies and trailers from €18 to €12 per lift. The impact of this reduction has been felt even more keenly as it has been applied retroactively to lifts made during 2013 as well as the current year.

Thierry Guimbaud, Director of Services at the Department of Transport, told the meeting that the Transport Minister was forced into this position as the government needs to reduce the state's deficit and the Prime Minister actually wanted to axe the subsidy (known as the coup de pince) completely, so actually the Transport Misnitry had fought the GNTC's corner. Futhermore, there is an agreement in place between and the Department and the GNTC that protects the subsidy for the next three years 2015-17, so combined tramsport will still be supported to the tune of €19M, instead of €30M without the cut.

Looking beyond 2017, no decisions have been taken, but the onus is on combined tramsport operators to reduce their costs in order to come up with a competitive service offer for shippers. Thus, for example, T3M has put into operation 1000m long combi-trains between Paris (Valenton) and Marseilles and between Avignon and Sucy-en-Brie. These trains have two locos, but one is a "slave" without a driiver, controlled telematically from the loco with the driver.

However, Vincent Duguay, commercial director of French track authority RFF appears to have ruled out deployment in France of 1500m trains, even though SNFC (and DB Schenker) are hoping to commercialise these within two years under the EU-backed Marathon project, so there could be some negotiations going on here.

In addition, the rail reform agenda in France cannot ignore the personnel cost at SNCF, estimated to be 40% over what it should be. On top of that, he suppression of state support for RFF will result in the end of the freeze on rail tolls. At €2/train km in France the charges are, according to GNTC, already the most expensive in Europe. RFF previously budgeted an increase in tolls of 6% in 2016, but with an end to the "freeze, it is feared that it will increase them by 17%.

As regards container barge transport, VNF (Voies Navigables de France) has set up a 5-year support plan (PARM) worth €10M for 2013-17, covering studies, trials and support for handling equipment.

Delphine André, grand-daughter of Charles André, the founder of Groupe Charles André Transports, has been elected as the new President of GNTC, succeeding Gérard Perrin. In her inaugural statement, she pointed out that rail-road combined transport in France accounts for 10 Btkms, or 600,000 HGV trips/year saved from the motorways. France thus accounts for 20% of the rail/road combi-sector in Europe.

She called on the authorities to take full account of the importance of the combined transport sector in recognition of its enviromental and social benefits.

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