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Congestion on the tracks?

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STRIA Roadmaps
Network and traffic management systems (NTM)
Infrastructure (INF)
Transport mode
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Transport policies
Societal/Economic issues
Transport sectors
Passenger transport,
Freight transport


Background & Policy context

According to the Railway Act Chapter 6, Article 3 railway capacity must be allocated so that the requests are coordinated and if this is not possible Trafikverket (Transport Administration) must "allocate capacity with the help of contributions or in accordance with criteria for prioritization resulting in an economically efficient use of infrastructure", while there must be space for maintenance work on the railway. According to the same law, the capacity should be allocated "competitively neutrally and non-discriminatory".


The government has commissioned Trafikanalys (Transport Analysis) to develop a knowledge base and an analysis of the current state of rail freight transport within and to/from Sweden. A concrete task is to "identify opportunities for and assess the benefits of an increased use of [...] for rail freight". An important part of answering this question is to describe how much room there is for more freight trains and how the requests for freight trains capacity are treated. If the rail freight is actively given low priority in a way that is not consistent with the Railway Act, this is an important piece of information to understand what potential there is for more rail freight.


Our view is that a first key issue is to assess the extent to which the freight operators' requests for train paths are handled in a proper manner in the scheduling process. A second question is to what extent the process of adjustments to the schedule until the "execution" is flexible enough to allow for any cancellations of allocated capacity can be utilized.

In this study, we examine the allocation of Transport Administration timetables 2014-2016 where we compare rail companies filed applications for train paths – as they were presented at the deadline for applications in spring for the coming timetable – with granted train paths in the annual timetable published in the autumn. The difference between the number of requested and granted paths we call A-difference. Then there are the awarded train paths according to the timetable that we could not match the requested train paths; we call this the B-difference. We interpret the A-difference as the filed applications that Trafikverket for various reasons, does not grant the railway company and B-difference the paths the railway company was awarded but did not apply for in the spring, but either did apply for later or was awarded by Trafikverket, rather than as paths that the railway companies applied for but not been able to get. The main result is that both freight and passenger companies receive roughly the same number of paths that the paths request. For some freight companies, however, we see a big A-difference. We also examine what we call time offsets, i.e. adjustments in departure, arrival and driving times in the granted paths compared to the paths that were applied for. The time offsets are calculated for departure time, driving time and the arrival time. The time offsets can thus be calculated only for train paths that were both applied for and granted


As we presume that the short term (ad hoc) process can be a clue to how, above all, freight companies adapt their services during the current timetable, we include a limited analysis of how the passenger train companies cancel train paths and apply for new train paths during the first nine months in 2014 and 2015. This analysis shows that about 97 percent of passenger trains depart according to the original timetable during these years. For freight trains the corresponding data, unfortunately, has not been available to us and the corresponding analysis was not possible. This study shows that freight traffic has decreased and passenger traffic increased. The total capacity does not increase as much during the 2014-2016 period. This implies that the passenger traffic could increase by roughly as much as the freight train traffic decreased. However, our data cannot be used to assess whether freight companies were disadvantaged in the allocation process, as the decrease was associated with a decrease in the number of applications for paths.

According to our calculations, freight companies’ have a larger proportion of A-difference compared to passenger companies in all investigated years, and a smaller proportion of B-differences the first two years. In the third year, freight traffic received both a larger proportion of A- and B-difference. Our calculations also show that the granted paths as a share of applied for paths increased for both freight and passenger traffic, although passenger train companies to a greater degree get just the path they requested. According to our study freight trains time receive larger offsets than passenger trains, on average, between 8 and 20 times as large.

Overall, we conclude that most rail companies seem to get nearly all the capacity they want and that they seem to be reasonably happy with it. The interviewed freight companies, however, have different demands on the design of train path allocation process. We cannot conclude that freight companies are disadvantaged in according to the Railway Act, nor if the process means that available capacity is fully utilized. To the extent that the Swedish Government or the Transport Administration wants to know this, better data is needed on when paths are cancelled and when the decisions are taken to award new train paths. VTI cannot with the available information assess if the possible problems with this process justifies such efforts. A type of analysis that can be done with existing data, which was done just before publication of this report, is to analyse the extent to which different railway companies were awarded paths on individual sections of track. 



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