Freight traffic in Europe continues to grow, especially in the road sector. This contributes to congestion and pollution problems, particularly in urban areas. One solution is to use freight platforms – transhipment areas where many transport companies (such as forwarders and logistic service providers) are located, and ideally, where at least two transport modes are connected. Benefits can include the switching of long-distance freight from road to rail, and the consolidation of loads/trips for urban deliveries.
REFORM aimed to provide guidelines for designing, locating and organising freight platforms in urban areas, based on a Europe-wide investigation of existing experience.
A database of 96 European freight platforms was created, identifying key characteristics such as transhipment volumes, infrastructure, on-site company interactions and financial arrangements.
Based on this analysis, a handbook was developed for local authorities and transport sector companies. The handbook provides guidance and evaluation methods for establishing new freight platforms. Topics include:
- financial and organisational issues, and their impact on the efficiency of platform operations;
- the impact of technology, equipment and design on platform efficiency;
- evaluation of potential impacts on urban traffic and the environment.
The guidelines were successfully tested by computer simulation at sites in Berlin, Brussels, Rome and Madrid. Depending on the local situation, the introduction of freight platforms was estimated to have different levels of benefit:
- in Rome, a network of platforms could reduce the total truck-kilometres driven within the city by 15%;
- in Brussels, transhipment from heavy trucks to vans would actually increase vehicle-kilometres and pollutant emissions, although action against illegal parking would significantly reduce congestion and fuel use;
- in Madrid, the number of delivery trips would be reduced by higher load factors and a cut in the number of empty truck movements, although traffic levels would rise in the vicinity of the platform (reducing speeds by 3%);
- in Berlin, the location of freight forwarders within the city would reduce their truck mileage by more than 40%; yield cost savings for the forwarders and increase the competitiveness of intermodal transport.
City-based freight platforms can reduce urban delivery traffic and emissions, as well as facilitating a switch from road to rail. However, experience to date has shown a need for better design work to improve efficiency and financial viability. Many local authorities and operators had requested an evaluation scheme – the REFORM project has met this need.
The handbook does not replace a detailed analysis of the regional characteristics, which is essential for the optimal design of freight platforms. Rather, it provides a structured framework of how to plan platforms according to the specific regional issues. Similarly, the handbook supports, but does not replace, the critical interaction processes between public and private sector partners to reach agreement on their individual and mutual interests.
Freight platforms support economic as well as traffic policy objectives. Logistic centres may help to attract industry. Transport operators can achieve cost savings through co-operation agreements with other on-site companies. The provision of on-site services also increases operational efficiency.
The role of local authorities, guided by the handbook, would include the provision of:
- suitable sites;
- appropriate regulations;
- transport infrastructure;
- subsidies for other infrastructure, such as the establishment of bi-modal transhipment terminals.