The transport sector contributes around 10% to the gross domestic product of the European Union and is therefore a vital element for the European economy. Due to the ongoing dislocation of production and consumption units, an increasing demand of transport volume is expected in the future. However, the modal split for inland freight transport within the EU 27 shows an imbalance of transport modes as the majority of the goods are transported on roadways (EC 2007). Several initiatives of the European Commission, such as the Marco Polo Programme support projects which focus on the modal shift of freight transport in order to reduce the number of tracks on the roads which lead to more sustainable freight transportation within Europe.
The modal shift is also necessary as the European Community is not willing to invest in new infrastructure, as utilisation of the given infrastructure needs to be increased (EC 2001). The macro-logistical situation shows that the existing transport infrastructure has problems to handle the expected growth of freight transport volume which will lead to serious bottleneck situations. An analysis by the UIC-GTC (2004) has identified a transhipment gap of 1.7 million load units by 2015 which existing intermodal terminals cannot handle with given transhipment technology. This means overall, that transport systems of the future need to be economically efficient as well as sustainable by utilising existing infrastructure more effectively.
FastRCargo addressed the above mentioned problem by removing bottlenecks via a selective increase of utilisation in multimodal rail corridors between large terminal structures, especially in the vicinity and inside of terminals.
The transhipment process is a fairly small task within the intermodal transport chain, however, of very high impact. Since the early seventies, many projects have been developed to improve this process. Although some of them started very ambitious, they could not contribute to a significant increase of the efficacy of intermodal transport in the long run. Today, we are committed to learn from past experiences, trials and errors. The project team aimed to develop a highly efficient impact system in order to meet the requirements of an effective and competitive intermodal transport system.
Cranes with top spreaders remain the only standard of container handling. Based on the experiences gained from loading and unloading large ships, this technique was then transferred to a wide range of material flow process steps. For rail transportation, however, the question of efficient container handling remained unsatisfactory. The FastRCargo project aimed at finding a solution to bring back the benefits of the rail transport system - what it has been in the past and what it should become again in the future.
The project aimed at developing a new transhipment system for fast loading and unloading of standardised intermodal transport units (ISO containers and swap bodies) between rail and road vehicles and terminal or support vehicle structures. Interoperability and inter-connectivity between rail and road transport for cross-operation was perfectly supported by the fact that road standardised production means would be seamless, without excessive time and for reasonable friction costs integrated into rail operation without any modifications. Intermodal liner networks became reality with the system proposed. This innovative system would support the material flow as a road-to-rail interface within bypass rail infrastructures and consequently serve as a novel intermodal (transfer) node. The performance of services created with the proposed system would be bench marked against truck based transport services. Pre projects have confirmed a high potential for the proposed concept which would become a real alternative to road haulage. The target modal shift from road transport dominated to rail transport dominated supply chains should support of course efforts of reducing carbon emissions.
The strategic project goal was tackled by considering the following aspects (in accordance to Goldratt 1990 or Gudehus 2005; Schönsleben 2007):
- Competitiveness of the intermodal transport chain. Intermodal transport needs to become a competitive alternative to unimodal transport solutions which are mainly truck-based. This includes an image shift of the transport mode which still is perceived as an inflexible and time-consuming process.
- Orchestration of system elements performances. The performance data and characteristics for transport as main function and loading and unloading capacity as interface data for rails, trucks and logistics facilities differ very much. This holds also for the investments and the structures of the operating cost.
- Operation of the rail transport leg in a high performance mode primarily. Basically, rail freight transport is considered as a 'high volume per operating hour' process while truck transport us considered to be a 'low volume per operating hour' process. Loading and unloading trains today is a 'low volume per operating hour' and has to be transformed into a 'high volume per operating hour' process in future. Also, a road vehicle can stand as 'low volume per operating hour' process item.
- Application of proven investment strategies for the complete transport chain. The rail freight transport - and especially the Intermodal transport - function and organisation must be compared with a high investment manufacturing system. The individual 'production facilities and equipment' need to be assessable like a yield drive manufacturing site.
- Development of the transhipment operation to a highly dependable process. The transhipment process part must therefore be transformed into an assessable and highly dependable process with very limited down times. This requires a high degree of automation.
- Reduction of energy consumption for transhipment. At the same token, the transhipment process part must become faster at less energy. The load units should never be 'in the air'.
Summarising 2 to 6, sequential and one-by-one vertical lifting operations must be replaced by simultaneous, horizontal and take-them-all operations.
- New organisation paradigm. This new transhipment paradigm requires different organisations for the material flows within a terminal, including novel ideas for supply feeder structures to assure high throughput of a terminals.
The result of the project was the development of a new transhipment system for fast loading and unloading of standardised intermodal transport units between rail and road vehicles and terminal or support vehicles structures.
By focusing on innovation and novelty for intermodality and interoperability, the project contributed to an increase of image, public acceptance and share of mind for rail transport and its actors. This would lead to a higher media presence and societal acceptance of transport and rail transport in particular. The project supported policy makers with sustainable supplement for intermodal transport in its present form and thus a valid alternative, which was:
- in support of existing intermodal networks and their developments
- in support of local, regional and industry-specific long-term environmental objectives
- in support of high yield investments.
With the use of technologies developed within the project, novel transport methods will become a strategic option, especially for new entries and innovative operators. When applying new paradigms for rail operation as well, various new alternatives for rail transport production methods become feasible for realisation and reinforcing competitiveness of intermodal rail cargo vs. truck transport. For example:
- shifting the balance between modes of transport
- removing bottlenecks
- fast execution of the loading operation and by the fact that trains can be manipulated while waiting on bypass tracks with active electrical power