France: significant recovery in rail freight transport

France: significant recovery in rail freight transport
@rauschenberger on Pixabay

Rail freight transport increased by 5.4% in 2021 and is above the 2019 level, mainly due to an increase in combined transport.

The French Transport Regulatory Authority (ART) has published a report on the rail market for 2021. The report covers the development of the freight and passenger rail market, which has been affected by the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic.

One important conclusion is that rail freight traffic in France is growing and returning to 2017 levels, particularly thanks to combined transport. Rail freight grew by 5.4% thanks to a 20% increase in combined transport (in tonne-kilometers), which represents 39% of freight transport activity. However, the operator Fret SNCF, which still has a dominant market share (49 %), faces significant competition, including within the SNCF group (in particular Captrain and Naviland Cargo). The high number of combined transport operators, accounting for 56% of train bookings, makes the combined transport market even more open.

Between 2020 and 2021, investment in the national rail network (RFN), and in particular in high-speed lines (LGV), totaled €5.4 billion (i.e. 12% more than in 2019). However, the out-dated quality of the tracks has not yet been significantly reduced, especially the LGV tracks, which will require major renewal in the future. Over the last five years, almost 1 200 km of old and underused lines have also been closed.

Compared to other public transport modes, the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of rail transport are very moderate due to the low weight of thermal passenger train traffic. The decrease in traffic in 2021 was accompanied by a 7% decrease in measured GHG emissions.

In view of passenger rail transport, its share in 2021 was 8.6%. Compared to 2020, passenger rail traffic has increased but remains 1.3% lower than in 2019. However, 2021 showed that the total recovery of passenger rail transport is more dynamic in France than in most European countries, which is probably to be confirmed in 2022.

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