FERRMED Great Axis
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Domain of application: European

Status: concept

Year: 2004


Links to relevant references 



FERRMED was founded in Brussels on 5 August 2004 as a non-profit association which seeks to enhance European competitiveness and sustainable development by improving rail freight transport. Today FERRMED is supported by 143 members, including key business institutions and private companies from all over Europe and North Africa.

The FERRMED Great Axis Network - also known as “Red Banana”, due to the shape of its area of influence (see Illustration) -- is the “backbone” of Western Europe. This Network interconnects the most important maritime and fluvial ports, the most important economic regions and the main East-West axes of the European Union, spanning over more than 3,500 kilometres from Stockholm and Helsinki to Algeciras and Genoa, crossing 13 countries (Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, Norway and Switzerland), encompassing Northern and Baltic Sea basins with Western Mediterranean coasts. The FERRMED Great Axis would have direct influence over an area that concentrates 54% of the EU population and 66% of its GDP. In addition, it would link the EU to Russia, through the connections with the Western end of the Trans-Siberian Railway in St. Petersburg and Finland, and with the North of Africa

Consistently with the objectives pursued by the European Union, FERRMED advocates, supports and promotes the following main objectives: 

  • to promote the creation of the Great Axis Rail Freight Network Scandinavia – Rhine – Rhone – Western Mediterranean;
  • to promote the implementation of the FERRMED Standards in the EU and neighbouring countries rail networks;
  • to improve intermodal freight transportation – railway being one of the modes – all over the EU and its neighbouring countries;
  • to improve ports and airports rail connections with their respective hinterlands;
  • to contribute to a more sustainable overall development through the reduction of pollution and green house gas emissions
  • to stimulate European competitiveness through the continuous improvement of the global/multimodal chain of added value in the European Union and its neighbouring countries

FERRMED Great Axis Rail Freight Network. Source: FERRMED

The Standards that FERRMED intends to implement in the major rail freight networks in the EU and neighboring countries are:

  • Coordination unified at EU level of the allocation of funds to the development of the Core Rail Network and the implementation of common Standards
  • Reticular and polycentric network with a great socio-economic and intermodal impact, with two parallel lines (double tracks each) in each of the corridors of the Network. One for high-speed trains (primarily passengers) and one for conventional trains (freight and passengers with same priority)
  • Electrified Lines (preferably to 25,000 volts)
  • Width of the tracks: UIC (1435 mm)
  • UIC-C loading gauge
  • Per axle load of 22,5 ÷ 25 tons
  • Trains length reaching 1,500 meters long and 3,600 ÷ 5,000 tons of loading capacity. Usable length of sidings and terminals for 1,500 meters trains
  • Maximum slope: 12 ‰ (15 ‰ exceptionally in very short distances of just a few hundred meters)
  • Bypasses for freight in conurbations
  • Availability of a network of intermodal versatile and flexible terminals with a high level of performance and competitiveness
  • System (ERTMS level 2) with complete trivialization
  • Availability of capacity and traffic schedules for rail freight transportation 24 hours a day and 7 days a week
  • Free competition
  • Harmonization of the administrative formalities and the social legislation
  • Operating Systems, "monitoring" and traceability (through ITS) established by Mega-Regions and main corridors and coordinated at EU level
  • Management philosophy based on the R+D+4i principles ("Research, Development, innovation, identity, impact and infrastructure”) in the rail freight network, as an integral part of the global chain of added value
  • Homogeneous competitive costs for the use of infrastructure by operators
  • Reduction of the environmental impact of the freight transporting system (particularly noise, vibration, and CO2 emissions) as a result of the retrofitting of the old railway rolling stock, infrastructural solutions where needed, and an increase in the share of the rail in long distance land transportation of up to 30÷35%
  • New concepts of freight locomotive and wagon adapted to the technical FERRMED Standards
  • The implementation of these Standards is essential to ensure the complete competitiveness of the Trans-European Core Railway Network (see FERRMED MANIFESTO)

According to FERRMED Global Study (2009) the FERRMED Great Axis Rail Network project would be a major contribution from the European private sector to implement the EC policy of harmonization and interoperability of the European rail transport system as established in the 2001 White Paper and the 3 Railway Packages of 2001, 2004 and 2007. The 100-project action plan proposed by FERRMED Association includes 15 essential points:

  1. Upgrading the FERRMED Great Axis Rail Network, implementing the FERRMED Standards and adopting the FERRMED Core Network and main feeders as an EU priority rail network under TEN-T, with a total proposed investment of EUR 178 billion (FFS) until 2025.
  2. Address and eliminate institutional, legislative and technical bottlenecks to the harmonization and interoperability of the FERRMED Great Axis Rail Network with total investment of EUR 28 to 32 billion until 2025 for solving the infrastructure bottlenecks and city by-passes.
  3. Use of mixed conventional lines with parallel high speed lines (HSL). In the FERRMED core network, double track (2x2) is required in all its extension. One should be dedicated to fast moving trains (passenger and light freight) and the other to conventional speed trains (mixing freight trains with regional passenger trains). The study shows that if this is accomplished, there is still capacity in existing lines for additional freight traffic. A balanced approach should be used to establish priorities for passenger and freight trains. Dedicated lines could be required in large cities by-passes and HSL main lines in sectors with an existing single line (as is the case in Tarragona-Castelló).
  4. Build rail by-passes in large cities. Capacity and traffic schedules for freight transport 24 hours a day and 7 days a week requires by-passes for free crossings over nodes and large cities, specifically in the cases of Hamburg, Koblenz, Karlsruhe, Brussels, Lille, Paris, Dijon, Lyon, Barcelona, Valencia, Alacant and Murcia.
  5. Harmonize and reinforce border crossings in the Alps and the Pyrenees. These crossings are of key importance to upgrade the FERRMED Network. In the Alps new base lines are required between Switzerland and Italy and between France and Italy. The different track width in Mediterranean and Atlantic side crossings of the Pyrenees should be harmonized at international standards as a first priority action.
  6. Upgrade of Spanish main corridors to UIC width. The track width should be changed to international standards (UIC 1,435 mm) in the FERRMED Network in Spain.
  7. To build new lines in the FERRMED Core Network in the corridors which are not duly interconnected as it is the case of Fehmann new fix link and the lines Almeria - Motril - Málaga - Algeciras and Lorca - Granada.
  8. Establish better connections between inland intermodal and industrial terminals, ports and hinterlands and the FERRMED core Network. These are of key importance to facilitate the flow of freight in the FERRMED Great Axis Rail Network. Special attention should be given to improving these connections as well as to create a network of intermodal public / private terminals in industrial areas of the large cities surroundings and multimodal communication centres. One objective of the EC policy is to enhance the capacity of European ports to absorb the intercontinental and short sea shipping traffic growth. The anticipated expansion of EU trade with Asia and North Africa will likely result in increased pressure on Southern ports. The Study recommends a proportional refurbishment of all EU main ports linked to the FERRMED Great Axis Rail Network.
  9. Upgrade of FERRMED Network to UIC GC. This should be done in 2 steps: before 2025 the network should be upgraded to UIC GB1, less costly in the case of old tunnels. Later, UIC - GC can be introduced gradually during the periodical refurbishment of existing line tracks. All new lines have to be built in UIC - GC.
  10. Signalisation. ERTMS Level 2 should be installed in the rail Core Network and Main Feeders.
  11. Lower gradients: New lines should be constructed with a maximum gradient of 12‰.
  12. Longer and heavier trains increase the network capacity and reduce transport costs. Train lengths should be increased to about 750 m in the FERRMED Network and to 1,500 m in the FERRMED core lines and main feeders, allowing the possibility of 3,600 ÷ 5,000 tonnes of freight capacity by train. New lines should be suitable for 25 tonnes per axle. The 20 tonnes sections should be upgraded to 22.5 tonnes/axle in the entire FERRMED Network. The periodical renewal of tracks could be used to gradually convert these lines to 25 tonnes/axle. New wagon concept with automatic couplings is required.
  13. Electrification. The railway network should be fully electrified. All new lines must be preferentially at 25Kv.
  14. EC rail transport policies. The adoption of EC policies, legislation, regulations and technical standards on rail transport by Member States should be accelerated, particularly those related to liberalization and openness to competition, operational and management standards, regulations and procedures, especially for traffic priority, operational coordination and infrastructure use fees.
  15. FERRMED considers that all railway lines included in FERRMED Great Axis Core Network would have to be considered as EU Priority Projects.



According to FERRMED Global Study (2009):

  1. All the EC policies, legislation and regulations since 2001, including the TEN-T 30 Priority projects, and all investments in transport scheduled by national and regional authorities of the Member States of the FERRMED Network combined, would only freeze the trend at which the rail sector has been losing its transport market share to road transport during the last 50 years (14% of inland freight transport in the FERRMED Great Axis Rail Network countries in 2025 and 20% in the long distance inland transport). More is needed to implement the EU policy of shifting transport from road to railways to improve European socioeconomic and environmental conditions.
  2. Upgrading the FERRMED Great Axis Rail Network, implementing the FERRMED Standards and eliminating the institutional, legislative, infrastructural and technical bottlenecks should increase the transport share of railways to 17% of all inland freight and 24% (more than 500 km) - 28% (more than 1,000km) of all long distance transport by 2025, reversing the trend of road transport share growth and capturing a broad range of socio-economic and environmental benefits for Europe.
  3. Most of the investments required to upgrade the FERRMED Great Axis Rail Network will be allocated to achieve rail freight harmonization and interoperability. As a comparison, TEN-T Priority Projects require total investments of about EUR 600 billion until 2020.
  4. The socio-economic benefits of upgrading the FERRMED Great Axis Rail Network and implementing the FERRMED Standards contribute to European industrial competitiveness through lower costs and a better environment. The Study shows that, after the proposed investments and actions, the FERRMED Network is feasible and sustainable from an economic, social and environmental perspective:
    • Under the MFS, EUR 130 billion in investments until 2025 should generate EUR 150 billion in savings in vehicle operational costs (VOC), EUR 41 billion in savings in travel and transport time and EUR 12 billion in savings in accident and environmental benefits from 2016 to 2045. The Economic Internal Rate of Return (EIRR) under the MFS, based on socio-economic and environmental costs and benefits, is estimated at 4.97%, in line with profitability benchmarks for these types of projects in Western Europe (3 to 5%).
    • Under the FFS, EUR 177 billion in investments until 2025 should generate EUR 228 billion in savings in VOC, EUR 285 billion in savings in travel and transport time and EUR 15 billion in savings in accidents and pollutant emissions from 2016 to 2045. The EIRR under the FFS, based on socio-economic and environmental costs and benefits, is 11.09%.
    • The F+FS requires EUR 210 billion in investments until 2025 with an expected EIRR of 8.85%.
  5. The positive EIIR of the Full FERRMED Scenario indicates that increasing competitiveness of rail freight would cause a sharp shift in modal transport. This implies that economic results will increase significantly provided that investments undertaken goes beyond the threshold marked by investment for the implementation of the FERRMED Standard and resolution of bottlenecks.
  6. The Study has identified institutional, legislative and technical bottlenecks at the EU and Member State levels, assessing appropriate alternatives to address and eliminate them. A total of 30 infrastructure bottlenecks were found under the Reference Scenario in 2025.
  7. The investments in infrastructure in the FERRMED Great Axis Rail Network, without consideration of all social, economic and environmental benefits of the project will require EC and Member States financing support over the period of the financial analysis (2013-2045). The financial structure should be such as to attract also the participation of equity investors, lenders and providers of guarantees from the private sector. PPP financing alternatives should be particularly important to finance infrastructure such as city by-passes and terminals.
  8. Transport in the Study area is expected to grow about 60% in tonne km until 2025 due to increased economic activity. If no actions to develop and implement alternatives are taken, the increased traffic volume will be translated into increased road traffic, with the additional consequences that the goal of reducing greenhouse emissions by 20% in 2020 would be compromised and road congestions would increase since key highways and large city rings in the FERRMED Great Axis Rail Network area are not ready to absorb this additional road traffic.
  9. The rail freight traffic in the FERRMED Great Axis Rail Network would practically double in tonne km to achieve a market share of about 24-28 % for long distance freight in 2025. With additional public policy support, the FERRMED Network could reach 30% to 35% of inland long distance freight rail transport market in later years. According to the line capacity assessment undertaken in the study, investments proposed under the Full FERRMED Scenario will be able to respond to this additional rail freight traffic.


Additional materials

Conferència sobre el tren mediterrani amb Pujol, Verhofstadt i Tremosa

110112 Corredor FERRMED


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