For several decades the European freight transport market has considerably changed, in general leaving the rail sector with an ever-decreasing market share. These structural changes were triggered by logistics trends focusing on a limited number of distribution centres, the outsourcing and bundling of logistics services and concepts such as just-in-time delivery.
Hence the requirements, in particular for short haul shipments, shifted towards higher speed, improved availability, flexibility and timeliness, which would not be served well by railway networks. Eventually, as a major negative side effect a lot of additional traffic in road and air transport was generated and railway capacities were found unused. The true reason for the unattractiveness of rail transport can be attributed to technical problems of railway systems and organisational obstacles, most importantly related to hampered intermodal capability and poor responsiveness to customer demand.
In line with the policy theme to enhance intermodal transport, the Rolling Shelf project aimed at encouraging a modal shift from road transport to rail based services through technological innovations and organisational measures. The project concentrated on short distance transport of palletised goods, parcels and pallet containers.
The main objectives of ROLLING SHELF were:
- To specify and develop new freight vehicles (i.e. wagons and trains) suitable for
- fast and automated transhipment processes,
- high levels of utilisation and dynamic loading operations,
- reliable scheduled services between dedicated terminals;
- to improve transhipment facilities, e.g.
- for dynamic and flexible loading and unloading of pallets and small containers,
- special terminal designs for small, medium and high volume cargo shipments;
- to design and develop special load units for
- bundled palletised goods on standard pallets, to be transported on specially designed Rolling Shelf wagons, and
- small container units, to be transported on available standard flat wagons.
The methodology involves:
- proposing a network of terminals suited for the needs of Rolling Shelf;
- establishing a goods wagon which will allow fast and easy loading and unloading of palletised goods;
- a telematic solution enabling fast and easy tracing of goods and an efficient way of handling orders and shipments;
- evaluation of the economic aspects of the Rolling Shelf system by valuing the investment and operating costs, and comparing them with possible revenues, and also calculating the minimum service distance.
ROLLING SHELF has:
- Calculated the market potential for palletised cargo, modelled for 248 European traffic zones, confirming the low modal share of rail at an average of less than 20 %;
- Forecast a healthy potential market for the Rolling Shelf concept focusing on palletised goods and parcels on short distances, both segments estimated to grow at about 75% by the year 2015;
- Designed an optimised network of 53 terminal locations for central European countries (B, NL, D, A, CH, I) and revealed a shipment demand of 27,000 pallets per day;
- Simulated the operation of 48 daily trains to manage the above mentioned cargo volume with respect to feasible timetables, the focus of freight train operations being on night-time and offering two price models (express and standard) for customers;
- Designed an aluminium system pallet capable of carrying three flat Europallets (also re-ferred to as Triple-Pallet Units (TPU)) or standardised grid box pallets, and a special adapter pallet accommodating Fiftyboxes (also referred to as Small Container Units (SCU)) for parcel shipments;
- Drawn up specifications for one TPU wagon and one SCU wagon, both able to travel at high speeds of up to 160 km/h;
- Considered various train configurations based on a mix of TPU and SCU type wagons;
- Developed ten conceptual terminal designs, ranging from manual handling of loading and unloading to fully automated systems, and specified associated conveying systems and load units;
- Assessed the economic feasibility of the entire concept, calculated for a modelled pilot corridor Amsterdam – Milan, which determined profitable operations of small consignments over short distances (100-200 km) at train utilisations of 50% and above; and
- Found the project's concept to fit into current logistics trends, such as the move towards smaller consignments, and unveiled its technical and economical feasibility.
Several branches of findings from the Rolling Shelf project will be followed up by further initiatives, such as FP 5 projects CO-ACT on fast cargo train test trials, handling nodes and networks, and New Rail Wagon on the design and manufacture of prototypes of advanced freight wagons. Several projects on EU and national level are under way to evaluate the benefits of e.g. time table driven rail transport on major European links or the development of fast cargo terminal networks. Moreover, the operation of future rail freight networks and the provision of vehicles and infrastructures are investigated in current projects.