Dealing with Fragmentation in the European Cross-border Rail Freight Transport - a New Governance Approach

Dealing with Fragmentation in the European Cross-border Rail Freight Transport - a New Governance Approach


M Zhang, G Zomer, L Tavasszy, IMR, Radboud University Nijmegen, NL



Promoting international rail freight transport has been high on the agenda of European policy makers as a means to improve the performance of cross-border freight transportation in general and subsequently achieve an integrated Trans-European transportation system. In the past fifteen years numerous actions have been initiated and enacted at the European level,including various legislations and investments in infrastructures (e.g. EC, 2001, 2004). Nevertheless, improvements in cross-border rail service performance and transport demand have been modest(e.g. EC, 1998; Eurostat, 2009).

Fragmentation has been recognised as one of the important factors that accounts for the slow development in the transportation system in the EU. This fragmentation reveals itself in several aspects. First of all the European objective in opening and enhancing the rail freight market is not commonly shared by all the member states. Secondly, EU policies and regulations ruling the rail transport market vary significantly across the member states both in terms of the aspects involved and the degree of impact. Thirdly, the differences in signalling system, gauges, electrification, etc. indicates a lack of interoperability between the national systems.

In light of such policy makers and practitioners have been calling for sets of harmonised regulations and rules across the member states. Several studies have concluded that innovation is needed in the governance structure for developing cross-border rail freight transport in the EU (e.g. Walker, et al., 2004; EC, 2006a, 2006b). Given this, at the EU level, policy makers take measures to optimise their own regulatory regime. This includes initiation of better regulation action plan (EC, 2002), reducing the Community Acquis (EC, 2003), simplifying interoperability directives (EC 2005, 2006) and so on. Until recently, national governments start to form collaboration by signing Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in order to achieve political commitment and confirm common interests in developing the engaged rail freight corridors. Examples are the MoUs signed by the relevant countries to develop corridor Rotterdam-Genoa and South East Europe Regional Transport Network, and the MoU signed between European Railway Association (ERA) and the EU, which aimed at implementing EU-wide network of interoperable rail corridors within 10-12 years timeframe. All these efforts lead to further exploration with regards to the institutional structure in the EU that is governing the cross-border rail market.

This paper addresses the above issues. First, a thorough analysis is carried out concerning the above-mentioned fragmentation based on an empirical case study: a rail-based freight service between the Netherlands and Romania. Next, we explore the MoU type of collaboration between the corridor countries and examine the effectiveness of it on reducing the level of cross-border fragmentation. Based on that, a corridor-based governance approach is designed in dealing with the fragmented cross-border rail freight system in the EU by employing a combination of various theories e.g. new institutional economics, multi-level governance, network and corridor concepts and supply chain management. We then reflect on the potential of this governance approach in the empirical case study. Finally the conclusions and reflections will be drawn.

This work is supported under the project named RETRACK which is part of the EC Sixth Framework Programme. Further information on the projects can be found on websites:


Association for European Transport