Reports 24 May 2012

Rail sector study into the external costs of transport in Europe

The study, undertaken by consultants CE Delft, INFRAS and ISI for the International Union of Railways (UIC), found that per passenger-km, the external costs of cars or aviation are about four times those of rail transport, with a similar pattern for freight transport. Road transport is responsible for the overwhelming share of total external costs with a share of 93%. Passenger cars have a share of about 62%, followed by trucks (14%), vans (9%), motorcycles (5%) and buses (4%). From the non-road modes, passenger aviation (internal -European flights only) has the largest share in external costs with about 4%. Rail transport is responsible for less than 2% for both passenger and freight transport. Inland waterways (freight) only 0.3%. In total about 76% of the costs are caused by passenger transport and 24% by freight (see graph hereafter).

The total external cost of transport in the EU-27 (without Malta and Cyprus, but including Norway and Switzerland) amounted to more than €500 billion (2008 figures) - about 4% of total GDP. If congestion costs are included, this amounts to an additional 0.9%-1.9%, bringing the total impact of externalities to between 5% and 6% of GDP.

The external costs approach works by deciding on a monetary value for each impact (noise, CO2, air pollution, accidents, etc) and then calculating the total impact for each mode. The total and average cost estimates provide a strong basis for comparing the environmental burden of various transport modes and can also be used for general policy development by the Commission and by member states. Another application could be in cost benefit analysis for transport infrastructure projects, and the results of the study can also be used as a basis for transport pricing strategies.

These results come at a crucial time in the European transport policy debate. The better use of price signals through the internalisation of external costs was one of the main planks of the 2011 EU White Paper on Transport. The latest revision of the Eurovignette Directive, completed in 2011, also now allows Member States to calculate tolls for road freight that includes charges for air pollution and noise.