EU ambition for alternative fuels in rail is likely to be higher

 Tuesday, May 30, 2023 


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The EU Regulation proposal for alternative fuels infrastructure now includes rail.

While rail was first not included in the scope of the European Commission’s proposal, it is now after negotiations and efforts of the European Parliament.

Sector organisations UNIFE and CER consider it a ‘step in the right direction’.

The new EU Regulation for the deployment of alternative fuels infrastructure (AFIR) sets mandatory deployment targets for electric recharging and hydrogen refuelling infrastructure, at first mostly aimed at the road sector, maritime transport and airports.

However, in rail, alternative fuels are also part of efforts to further decarbonise.

Hydrogen and battery applications are already in use, with many rail stakeholders involved in projects with alternative fuels.

Therefore, UNIFE and CER applaud the conclusion and outcome of the negotiations of the AFIR which now includes rail under its scope.

In the AFIR proposal, it is now stated that EU Member States have to assess the development of alternative fuel technologies and propulsion systems, such as hydrogen or battery-electric train, for rail sections that cannot be fully electrified for technical or cost-efficiency reasons.

This also goes for any refuelling and recharging infrastructure needs to deploy these trains.

EU countries have to show their plans for unelectrified rail

In addition, Member States will have to provide an overview by 2025 of the state of play, perspectives, and planned initiatives for deployment of infrastructure including targets, key milestones and financing needed for hydrogen or battery electric trains on network segments that cannot be electrified and are not covered by the TEN-T regulation, within their National Policy Frameworks.

The proposal also states that the European Commission will be able to issue recommendations on the National Policy Frameworks regarding the level of ambition of targets and objectives and the policy measures related to them.

The draft national policy framework will need to be prepared by 1 January 2025 to allow the finalisation of the national policy frameworks by 1 January 2026.

However, next to the need for national governments to show plans for use of alternative fuels in rail, there are no clear targets set, like for fueling infrastructure for roads.

For example, recharging stations dedicated to heavy-duty vehicles need to be deployed every 60 kilometres along the unelectrified core network, and every 100 kilometres on the larger TEN-T comprehensive network from 2025 onwards, it is stated in the AFIR regulation.

Important incentive for the industry

According to the rail sector organisations, AFIR sets an appropriate regulatory framework to sustain the investments made by railway suppliers, operators and infrastructure managers alike in innovative alternatives to diesel, facilitating European technology leadership in this domain.

UNIFE Director-General Philippe Citroën remarked that the European Rail Supply Industry is pleased to see that EU institutions, in particular thanks to the efforts of the European Parliament, have finally included rail in the scope of AFIR.

Even though the level of ambition could have been higher, the regulation will create an important incentive and visibility for the industry to continue its investments in developing competitive alternatives to diesel on lines that will not be electrified.

CER Executive Director Alberto Mazzola stresses that in the short-run, however, rail’s operating costs and in particular electricity costs need to be carefully assessed.

In today’s situation support measures are needed to make sure that rail’s intermodal competitiveness is not hampered and that a shift to diesel traction is avoided.

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