State aid: Commission approves increased public support to promote shift of freight traffic from road to rail in mountainous regions in Austria

The European Commission has approved under EU State aid rules an amendment to an existing Austrian aid scheme increasing public support to encourage the shift of freight traffic from road to rail in Austria’s mountainous regions, including the Brenner area. The amended scheme, with an additional budget of €205.2 million for 2020-2022, aims to make the use of “rolling highways” (the transportation of lorries by rail on low-loader wagons in mountainous regions) less costly, and therefore more attractive for shippers, compared to transport by road. The aid takes the form of a subsidy to railway companies, which will be reflected in the price that the shippers pay. The amendment takes into consideration the higher external costs caused by road transport in mountainous regions and therefore allows for higher aid amounts in such areas. The Commission based its assessment on its 2019 Handbook on the external costs of transport, which acknowledges that road transport can lead to additional external costs in mountainous areas which other areas do not face, such as higher emission levels or higher concentration of air pollutants, due to altitude and meteorological conditions. The Commission found that the scheme is necessary and proportionate to achieve a modal shift from road to rail, and is beneficial for the environment, in line with the EU’s transport and State aid policy objectives. On this basis, the Commission concluded that the measure is compatible with EU State aid rules, in particular the Commission Guidelines on State aid for railway companies. More information will be available on the Commission’s competitionwebsite in the public case register under the case number SA.55507 once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.