Over the last decade traffic congestion in urban areas has been growing. The increased volume of traffic makes European cities less accessible and causes extensive pollution of the environment. The retail trade contributes to this problem through the application of the “today for tomorrow” logistic concept, which causes a decrease in average load drop size and an increase in the frequency of deliveries. These two problems combine to cause problems for road transport. Railton believed that improvements in the system of rail distribution could be part of the solution to this problem. Rail transportation of goods has traditionally been considered to be only economically viable for distances over 250 kilometres. A demonstration project was planned to prove otherwise. By using a new logistic concept, introducing inter-regional (city to city) rail transport, linked to small (less polluting) delivery vans, an environmentally attractive alternative was to be created to replace heavy road transport. For the Dutch rail market alone, this could mean a reduction of 31 million road kilometres per year. To prove its economic and technical viability it was necessary to test this inter-modal transport over short distances
The objective of the project was to demonstrate the economic and technical feasibility of short distance (<100km) rail transport of consumer goods. This was to be achieved through the preparation and implementation of a pilot demonstration project, which would test a series of new techniques and processes. These would include a new logistic system for door-to-door transport, a new transport casing (urban box), the development of light railway transport equipment, new IT for the operation of the entire system, and a new trans-shipment terminal. The project was to be delivered in 6 phases:
- Phase 1: Detailed design
- Phase 2: Testing Period (also dissemination of results)
- Phase 3: Evaluation of the Testing Period (Decision to go ahead/adjustments)
- Pilot non-conditioned goods.
- Pilot conditioned goods, frozen goods.
- Evaluation and Dissemination of results.
The expected results of the project were a modal shift from road to rail transport in The Netherlands, a considerable reduction of truck kilometres (31 million in 2002, projected to be 155 million in 2010), resulting in a reduction of 57,000 tonnes of CO2 and 1,250 tonnes of NOx emissions in 2002 (or 285,000 tonnes of CO2 and 6,300 tonnes of NOx in 2010). It was also expected to lead to a decrease of 10 million litres per annum in gasoline usage. In the future, the use of electric vans for transport into the cities could also further reduce emissions and noise pollution.
Railton stopped the project in October 2000 before the start of the pilot phase (phase 4), and therefore before its main objectives were achieved. This was due to the emergence of a series of technical problems, which included: increased rail passenger transport reducing the availability of rail slots, and low-noise requirements and the need to obtain local permits. As a result of these issues the projected costs rose, making the level of risk unacceptable for the Company.
However, several important results were achieved, including:
- Raising awareness of the concept of inter-modal cargo transport. A major retail company has started to develop a similar box.
- Completion of much of the preparatory groundwork, including: the specifications of the IT system, CD Rom for virtual demonstration, detailed test module for the logistic process, four prototype distribution boxes, and the trans-shipment and terminal studies.
The area of modular shift transport clearly has an important role to play in reducing congestion in European cities and it is possible that other transport operators might be interested in the preparation work. The problems encountered are largely associated with the high population density and intensive use of infrastructure in The Netherlands. In other countries, where circumstances are different, the additional costs necessary to run the pilot could be avoided and so the project could operate competitively with road transport, making it economical feasible.
The specially designed 10 ft boxes could also be used in future projects, both in rail transport and in intermodal transport. The logistic concept is not exclusively designed for a typical Dutch situation. Almost every city in Europe has congestion problems and is connected to a rail network. The logistic project is therefore also suitable for other European urban areas that suffer from traffic congestion. Examples of such regions are the areas around Antwerp, Paris, London and the Ruhr.
There is now sufficient documentation to run the pilot project. Railion is still in contact with several potential customers and has learned from these customers that there is still a need for a project like this. The problems encountered in 2000 are anticipated to be solved in the near future. When partners are found a follow up to this project is likely, in which case the knowledge acquired will be essential.