Railway Traffic and Sustainable Mobility in France: Towards a Paradoxical Growth of Infrastructure Charges ?
Y Crozet, Laboratoire d?Economie des Transports, ISH, FR
Facing the issue of sustainable mobility, the common idea is to promote a modal shift from road to rail transport. But if we consider the French case study, the hypothesis of more and more cross subsidisation, from road to rail, is not so obvious
Facing the issue of sustainable mobility, the common idea is to promote a modal shift from road to rail transport. It was the main idea of the EU white paper (2001). In terms of infrastructure charges, the consequence was then to offer low fares to the train operators in order to reduce the relative cost of mobility by train, for passengers and for freight. According to the both threatens, that is to say climate change (because of CO2 emissions) and increasing price of oil, the issue of modal shift is more and more crucial. But if we consider the French case study, the hypothesis of more and more cross subsidisation, from road to rail, is not so obvious. Even if such a system is more or less in function to day, the ?sustainability? of a growing transfer between the two modes is problematic. Two main reasons lead to this conclusion.
? The first one, presented in the first part of the paper, is linked to the forecasted traffic growth. Due to increasing constraints on road (and air ?) transport, rail traffic could reach a high level in 2050, at once for High Speed Trains (HST) and for local and especially urban trains. But this evolution raises a lot of difficulties because local trains are heavily subsidised and it is more and more the case fort he new High Speed Lines. So we probably have to change the French tradition to subsidise mobility.
? The second one, presented in the second part, is related to the impossibility of having such a level of rail traffic with a cross subsidisation logic. The main challenges faced by the French railroad charging system are best understood when looking at RFF?s financial situation. The main difficulty when considering RFF?s financial prospects relies in the noticeable increase forecasted in infrastructure charges. On which part of the network will it be imputed? Should present imbalances be maintained or even worsened? Or should tariffs be increased only on the lines which need the most important replacement expenses?
? The third part of the paper will try to give some solutions. To understand what could be the options, we can first have a look to the last ten years. The level of rail infrastructure charges have been progressively increased and a first objective is almost reached. The cost of maintenance will be soon equivalent to the sum of infrastructure charges. So a first challenge have been successfully faced. But the ministry of Transport, as a supervisor of the rail infrastructure charges, is now facing a new challenge. Shall we continue to increase the charges? In order to cover not only the cost of maintenance, but also the regeneration cost and the heavy financial cost of the former rail investments, especially to built new High Speed Lines (HSL)?
From a theoretical and financial point of view, the answer is rather simple. When there is an important demand, with weak elasticity, it is possible to apply a Ramsey-Boiteux pricing scheme. For instance, infrastructure charges paid by the trains using the HSL between Paris and Lyon (opened in 1981 and largely paid off) are four times higher than the cost, this cost including maintenance, regeneration and some capacity investments. Due to the growing traffic on HSL, is there now an opportunity to cover, at a national level, all the rail infrastructure costs, that is to say to adopt, at the scale of the network, rather a long run marginal social cost (LRMC) than a short run marginal cost (SRMC) ?
Association for European Transport