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NEW OPERA — Result In Brief

Project ID: 6172
Funded under: FP6-SUSTDEV
Country: Italy

From missing networks to interoperable networks

The demand for low-cost and environment-friendly alternatives to road haulage is bigger than ever, in view of the dramatic increase in fuel price. To promote the modal change from road to rail, the New Opera project proposed possible measures to support railway sector development efforts.
From missing networks to interoperable networks
Despite projections for rapid growth in the next decades, doubts still surround the rail network's capability to reap the potential rewards following the expected turnaround. High costs and low loading times, which prompted the shift from rail to road in the mid 20th century, is again threatening to undermine the competiveness of the rail network.

The European Union has stepped up efforts to promote the interoperability of its rail network. However, these measures – ranging from the adoption of technical interoperability standards to market liberalisation – are not going far enough. Despite the growth in freight volumes, the modal split between road and rail freight remains stagnant.

New Opera, an initiative funded by the European Commission to identify and recommend improvements to the rail network infrastructure and interoperability standards shared this view.

Formed in 2005, the New Opera consortium consists of key business institutions and private companies active in the development of multimodal freight transport systems in Europe. Its global study concluded that policies adopted by the European Commission as well as investments by Member States are only freezing the rate at which freight is shifting from rail to road.

The New Opera consortium consequently recommended a sweeping rethink of future investments in rail infrastructure. At the heart of the recommendations was the establishment of a European freight network linking major ports on the North and Baltic Sea coasts with the Mediterranean. For this network to operate successfully, however, the efficiency of European freight transport will need to be improved.

Greater interoperability across borders is critical to the network's success, including improved connections between rail, air, and sea. Moreover, the changes required include the adoption of interoperability standards such as a universal track and loading gauge, electrification at 25\;kV and the European railway traffic management system (ERTMS).

Inevitably, such radical changes will involve extremely high costs. Convincing governments stricken by budget constraints to invest in their freight infrastructure - which traditionally takes a backseat in Europe behind passenger-oriented projects - is the biggest challenge facing the New Opera partners. If this is not possible, Europe may miss a golden opportunity that might not come around again.

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