Long columns of trucks on the freeway, countless articulated lorries on the country roads and vans blocking traffic in inner cities. German motorists have gotten used to this for many years – just as they are regularly confronted with overcrowded service areas, trucks parked wildly along the autobahn, or long truck traffic jams with Austrian block handling. What remains for most car drivers in this country is the hope that freight transport will finally be shifted more to rail.
These hopes have now received a massive damper. Federal Transport Minister Dr. Volker Wissing (FDP) has presented his traffic forecast up to the year 2051. The study, prepared by two well-known consulting firms, is based on basic data from 2019, but is updated annually. For example, the published version already includes the increased population growth, the changes caused by the energy transition and the consequences of the Ukraine war. But the forecasts for the future are bleak: trucks will have to bear the brunt of freight transport at least until the middle of the century. As a result, truck traffic will continue to increase.
The traffic forecast assumes that by 2051, passenger traffic on the road will increase by 13 percent to almost 1,400 billion kilometers, so-called passenger kilometers. But this increase seems almost nothing compared to what experts are forecasting for freight transport. It will increase by 54 percent on the road compared to 2019. Instead of 679 billion ton-kilometres, by mid-century it was 990 billion. The truck therefore remains the dominant means of transport for goods and is even becoming more important, according to the Ministry of Transport. The results of the new long-term traffic forecast make it clear: “Traffic in Germany will increase in every respect. In order to prevent a traffic gridlock, we urgently need Germany's pace for the expansion of all modes of transport - including the road," demands Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing.
It is inevitable that he will encounter resistance from his coalition partner, especially when it comes to expanding the road network. But the “Alliance for Rail” also immediately spoke up. Forecasts are not facts, accuses the Federal Minister of Transport. Martin Burkert, chairman of the non-profit transport alliance, described Wissing's statement as "outrageous" that he would not be guided by "political wishful thinking" when it came to freight transport. The coalition agreement, on the other hand, aims to increase the market share of goods on the railways. In fact, Wissing's traffic forecast assumes that the volume of goods on the railways will also increase - at around 33 percent, however, much less than truck traffic. A turnaround in favor of the web are different. In addition, transport on waterways is stagnating.
However, the lack of transfer to rail is not just a political bone of contention. It has concrete economic and social reasons, because freight transport is undergoing a structural change. As a result of the energy transition, less coal, coke, mineral oil products and ores are needed - freight that was previously mainly transported by rail, was easily dispatchable and is now losing volume. On the other hand, there is great growth in goods that are already typically transported by truck: general cargo from the food and beverages industry (plus 29 percent) and groupage goods to one addressee (plus 90 percent). However, the major drivers of freight volume are postal and parcel shipments, which will increase by 200 percent - a consequence of the ever-growing online trade. Here, not only are the freight destinations very diverse, but also the scheduling is mostly short-term, which speaks against transport by rail. And even a train loaded consistently with general cargo does not achieve the transport efficiency that it previously achieved with 2,000 tons of coal.
Prof. Dirk Engelhardt is also annoyed that most of the scolding of the trucks is a double standard on the part of many online buyers. He is spokesman for the board of the BGL, the Federal Association for Road Haulage, Logistics and Disposal: "Our trucks don't just drive around for fun, they have to transport goods that ensure the daily supply of the population and the economy."