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Creating Viable Concepts for Combined Air/Rail Cargo transport

European Union
Complete with results
Geo-spatial type
Project Acronym
STRIA Roadmaps
Transport mode
Multimodal icon
Transport sectors
Freight transport


Background & Policy context

CO-ACT is an international project under European Commission's Fifth Framework Programme for Research, Technological Development & Demonstration, Competitive and Sustainable Growth Programme, Key Action 2 'Sustainable Mobility and Intermodality', co-ordinated by the Directorate-General for Energy and Transport (DG TREN). Within the project there are two central issues: researching how fast cargo-trains and networks should be developed within Europe and experiencing in several test trials how fast cargo-train concepts should be exploited.


The main aim of the CO-ACT project was to identify and develop viable solutions for multi-modal cargo transport, with specific focus on the transportation of air- and time-critical cargo (for example flowers) by rail. The main objectives of CO-ACT were therefore the development of concepts for fast cargo-trains at a European level, and the development of inter-modal cargo-transport systems, thereby improving sustainable mobility.


This study would result in:

  • Insight into the feasibility of cargo transportation via rail in Europe.
  • Insight into the most promising technologies for multi-modal transport and transhipment.
  • Recommendations for the use and harmonisation of load units, equipment and procedures (including administrative) in the multi-modal sector.
  • An overview of the most promising innovative 'total' concepts for fast rail transport of air-cargo and other time-critical cargo in the EU, including a validation of concepts on the basis of their economical, commercial, organisational and technical viability.
  • Practical experience gained from a pilot train study between Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AAS) and Fraport.

The project had a two-fold strategy. Firstly the consortium would develop a fast cargo train for time-sensitive cargo (especially air-cargo) that would operate in a pilot study between Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AAS) and Fraport, (Frankfurt Airport). Secondly, the realisation of this fast cargo train was to be placed in a broader European context, as it is necessary for market participants to be able to develop the same services on other destinations, built on the practical experience and the information generated in the project.


Parent Programmes
Institution Type
Public institution
Institution Name
European Commission, Directorate-General for Energy and Transport (DG TREN)
Type of funding
Public (EU)


In conclusion, a number of observations can be made:

  • WP 1 showed that there is definitely a market potential for fast train transport of cargo, and that facilities throughout Europe can be developed to serve as multi-modal transhipment points;
  • WP 2 showed that transhipment is a key friction area in the multi-modal chain and that through harmonisation of load units, transhipment equipment and administrative procedures and technology this friction can be lessened;
  • WP 3 produced a number of interesting concepts for terminals and overall systems which would fulfil the requirements of the system, the characteristicsset by WP's 1 and 2, and the requirements set by the users;
  • WP 4 produced a detailed procedure for the validation of concepts and showed that both qualitative and quantitative results can be included in the multi-level assessment of concepts;
  • WP 5 demonstrated that the realisation for fast cargo transport by rail is possible with the right approach, and details the important areas of focus and procedural approach for such development;
  • WP 6 developed a concept design scenario based on a case study for Fraport, hence producing a platform on which to build development scenarios for other inter-modal terminal situations;
  • WP 7 developed a simulation model specifically tuned for such networks as CO-ACT, and allows the implementation of the model for the design of effective and efficient networks within Europe.
  • WP 8 produced some useful items for communication purposes and ensured that communication was sufficient throughout the project lifespan. Final dissemination of results will take place at a later stage.
  • WP 9 effectively managed the large and widely spread consortium through the lifespan of the project.

Currently, the connection of airports to (high-speed) passenger rail networks is considered a strategic advantage, placing them in the centre of the transport system. In the medium to long-term, being connected to future fast cargo train networks will be of similar importance. It will guarantee the position of the main airports as freight hubs and support the attractiveness of airport regions as centres of high-value logistics-based activities.

Policy implications

On international origin-destination connections, it becomes more and more difficult to realise fast transport by truck at acceptable costs. National governments make this happen by raising costs and sharpening rules for the use of infrastructure. Besides, the backbone of Europe's road network becomes more and more congested. As an interesting alternative to road-transport, fast rail-transport of air freight and other time critical cargo is expected to become a big player on a European scale. Therefore the presence of a backbone for a European rail network is taken into account by planning distribution and production locations. A number of market developments indicate an increasing potential for inter-modal time critical cargo- / rail- transport.


Currently, transport for time critical cargo is mostly entrusted to trucking companies. These trucking companies integrate flows and create own networks in order to decrease costs and improve service levels. Both the trucking and integrator networks could offer non-airline based freight for time critical and fast rail-transport of air freight and other time sensitive cargo within Europe. The integrator market will see a fast development in the coming years influenced by the growth of European integrators out of the express and postal organisations, the accelerating growth in the use of e-commerce (internet purchases) and the penetration of some integrators into the traditional airport-to-airport market. As a consequence, it can be expected that the integrators will generate an impressive demand for new integrated inter-modal ground-transport services (especially high speed).


In the context of these developments and the extensive rail network available, inter-modal cargo transport for time critical cargo by rail will become an interesting alternative to trucking. Different initiatives are taken to start these developments and make it commercially viable. CO-ACT is one of these initiatives. The time critical cargo and air transport sectors will shift to rail transport if the rail sector will provide it with services that seamlessly fit into the logistics chain of whi


Lead Organisation
EU Contribution
Partner Organisations
EU Contribution


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