This week, the European Commission invited to a meeting of lobbyists to discuss the admission of HGVs with a length of 25.25 metres and a payload of 60 tons. These HGVs would be equivalent to a length of 6 average motorcars and the loading capacity of a Boeing 737-300. The studies, which were ordered by the Commission, have, however, surprisingly come out clearly in favour of introducing these Mega HGVs. Notable: arguments from other traffic carriers, environmental and workers’ organisations were hardly taken into account or reinterpreted by the study.
The Chief of Cabinet of the Commissioner for Transport Antonio Tajani, Antonio Prato, opened the event making very careful statements concerning the Mega HGVs (also called gigaliners): A new Directive proposal would not be imminent; should there be a legislative initiative – this, however, was still open and would depend on the result of the studies – one could expect a legislative initiative only at the end of 2010/beginning of 2011. Apparently alluding to the (very much interested in introducing the Monster HGVs) officials in charge, Prato pointed out that opinions of individual officials needed not necessarily to comply with the attitude of the European Commission.

A study of Transport & Mobility Leuven as well as a study of the Joint Research Centre (JRC, belongs to the Commission) were presented at the conference. Both studies interpret the use of overlong HGVs as a reduction of CO2 emissions and HGV traffic. T & M Leuven talks about a possible decrease in HGV traffic volume of up to 30 %, whilst the Joint Research Centre forecasts a reduction of only about 3 %. Both studies talk about reductions in the market share (or a slower growth rate) in rail transport, but also of opportunities opening up to rails. What exactly these opportunities would look like was not mentioned by the studies.

A study prepared by the OECD was also introduced; it also tends to be in favour of admitting gigaliners.

The audience was dominated by freight lobbyists; the contributions made from the auditorium were accordingly positive: the food and the chemistry sector came out in favour of adjusting the Directive to the dimensions of HGVs to enable them to improve the transport of their products; many speakers emphasised in particular the volume and to a lesser degree the weight of the transported goods. Car manufacturers do not regard them as competitors to rail transport.

Remarkable, however, were the contributions by speakers, who came out against the introduction of Mega HGVs. Tom Jones of Freightliner alerts the Commission to miscalculations in the studies. The assumed resiliencies, which led to the positive results of the studies, had to be queried. Apart from that, the question needed to be asked how much money the Commission had already spent on pro-gigaliner studies. Johannes Ludewig from the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER) outlined in detail the negative consequences the introduction of overlong HGVs would bring with it: the JRC study would not take the intermodal shift (from rail to road) into account; critical studies such as the one prepared by the Federal Highway Research Institute (BASt) would not be considered. He envisages a vicious circle for the rail as a partial shift from rail to road would result in negative Economies of Scales, making rail transport more expensive. The infrastructure costs would be very high, as streets and bridges had to be built for 60-t vehicles. Ludewig received support from a representative of the Federal Ministry of Transport, who quoted a study on freight transport and logistics, which outlines that gigaliners would not bring any relief to the roads. The safety aspect should also not be neglected, as the kinetic energy of a 60-ton HGVs would have a far more serious impact in case of an accident than that of a 40-ton lorry. Nina Renshaw of Transport & Environment pointed out that one should not expect a reduction, but an increase in CO2 emissions as the more environmentally friendly rail would lose contracts and goods would be increasingly transported by road.

AK EUROPA spoke about the social dimension of introducing Monster HGVs: the studies would not take the negative impact on employment into account. Only the JRC study would express the opinion that although fewer HGV drivers would be needed, the ones who remained would be better trained and would receive more money. AK EUROPA criticised this statement and asked how the author of the study had arrived at this conclusion: there were neither binding regulations nor would any empirical data exist. Apart from that, the impact of employment on other transport carriers had not been considered at all, even though it would cause high costs for the national economies. In addition, AK EUROPA drew attention to the new Commission proposal on the Road Transport (Working Time) Directive, according to which the Commission would like to exempt self-employment drivers from the working time regulations. AK EUROPA regards this in connection with the possible introduction of 60-ton HGVs as a particular risk: self-employed drivers, who did not need to comply with working time restrictions and who would drive Mega HGVs in an overtired state would pose a great problem for road safety.

The Commission and the author of the Joint Research Centre study promised that all arguments brought to the discussion would be taken into account. An Impact Assessment, which among others would examine the social component, was also planned. The Commission does not see a greater danger for drivers of 60-ton HGVs compared to 40-ton HGVs with respect to the proposed Road Transport (Working Time) Directive.

Résumé: the Commission’s statements on admitting Mega HGVs are far more cautious than just a year ago; due to the apparently massive lobbying of freight lobbyists, the attitude of the Commission with respect to gigaliners remains to be positive.

Further information:

Study of the Joint Research Centre