| Written by Mark Buzinkay
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Rail cargo plays a crucial role in facilitating the efficient movement of goods across Europe. With its numerous advantages, including higher capacity, reduced carbon emissions, and the ability to reach remote regions, rail networks have emerged as a vital component of the European logistics landscape (see for more: cold chain warehouse management).
By expanding rail infrastructure, improving intermodal connectivity, and incentivising rail usage, European logistics can harness the benefits of rail cargo and foster a more efficient and sustainable transport system.
One of the key advantages of rail cargo is its ability to accommodate higher volumes of goods compared to other transportation modes. Rail systems typically have larger load capacities, allowing for transporting more goods in a single trip. This increased capacity enables logistics operators to streamline their operations, reduce the trips required, and optimise resource utilisation. As a result, rail cargo plays a pivotal role in alleviating congestion on road networks, particularly for long-haul journeys where large quantities of goods need to be transported efficiently.
Rail transport offers a greener alternative to road transportation, making it an essential component of sustainable logistics strategies. Trains emit significantly lower carbon emissions per tonne-kilometre compared to trucks, contributing to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and combating climate change. According to the aforementioned article, the utilisation of rail networks has the potential to significantly decrease environmental impacts by diverting freight from road to rail. By prioritising rail cargo, logistics stakeholders can actively contribute to achieving climate targets and building a more sustainable future.
To fully harness the benefits of rail cargo, it is crucial to invest in expanding rail infrastructure and improving intermodal connectivity. By enhancing rail network capacity, including constructing new rail lines and modernising existing infrastructure, European logistics can efficiently accommodate growing demands. Additionally, integrating rail with other modes of transportation, such as road and sea, through intermodal terminals enhances connectivity and enables seamless transfers of goods between different transport modes. This multimodal approach optimises supply chain efficiency and reduces overall logistics costs.
To encourage greater utilisation of rail cargo, it is essential to create incentives and supportive policies. Governments and regulatory bodies can introduce measures such as reduced tolls, tax benefits, and financial incentives for companies that prioritise rail transportation. By providing economic incentives and fostering a favourable business environment, European logistics can promote a modal shift towards rail cargo, further enhancing its significance in the overall transportation system.
In the context of transporting cold chain shipping containers on rail, there are various methods to supply power to reefers. These approaches offer alternatives to traditional diesel generators, aiming to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and promote more sustainable solutions. Let's explore the different ways in detail:
The above-mentioned options primarily rely on traditional power sources such as diesel generators. However, there are also emerging technologies that aim to reduce dependence on fossil fuels:
These emerging technologies show promise for reducing environmental impacts and improving the sustainability of reefer transportation. However, more research and development are needed to assess their effectiveness, operational range, and market viability.
When considering the transport of reefers on railways, several main success criteria come into play: speed, flexibility, and reliability. These criteria were identified through discussions with respondents who shared their general requirements for reefer container transport (learn more about cold chain shipping).
While rail transportation offers lower costs compared to trucking, speed emerged as a key consideration for many respondents, particularly shippers and service providers working on behalf of shippers. They emphasized the importance of timely delivery, especially when dealing with perishable goods like fruit, vegetables, and flowers that need to be assessed or delivered to auctions before specific cutoff times.
Flexibility is another crucial criterion highlighted by respondents. Shippers value the ability to determine their own pick-up and delivery times and make adjustments on short notice. They seek the option to choose between different modalities, including trucking or other modes of transportation, based on their immediate needs. However, this desire for flexibility can sometimes conflict with the preferences of terminals, which prefer predetermined planning for containers arriving or leaving via specific modalities.
Reliability emerged as a significant factor in the transport of reefers on railways. Many shippers and service providers work with large retail chains, operating under strict performance agreements. These retailers demand reliable and frequent service to effectively manage their inventory while also requiring flexibility to adjust delivery times and quantities as necessary. The market power of retailers enables them to exert pressure on costs, flexibility, and lead times, leaving little room for shippers and service providers to explore alternatives to truck transport.
To ensure the success of reefer transport on railways, it is crucial to address these main success criteria. Finding ways to enhance speed, provide flexibility in scheduling and modal choice, and maintain a high level of reliability will be key factors in encouraging the adoption of rail transportation for reefers (see here: Cold chain requirements).
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(Source: Castelein, B., Geerlings, H., & Van Duin, J. (2019). Reefers on Rails: Investigating User Perceptions and Technological Prospects)