ERA presents key obstacles to the development of combined transport in Europe 22/05/22

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Source: ERA presents key obstacles to the development of combined transport in Europe - IntermodalNews IntermodalNews


ERA presents key obstacles to the development of combined transport in Europe

Combined transport is an effective tool for achieving the strategic objectives of the European Green Deal and the Fit for 55 plan. Meanwhile, there are some significant obstacles in the European rail network that could slow down the decarbonisation of the transport sector. Some of them were pointed out by Josef Doppelbauer, Executive Director of the EU Railway Agency (ERA).

CargoBeamer provides a combined transport connection between France and Italy, source: CargoBeamer

"Combining different modes of transport is really important for the European Green Deal, one plus one is three. This is good for the economy due to the less congestion on the roads. This is beneficial for the climate, as sustainable modes of transport are the dominant branch. This is good for saving energy during the Russian aggression against Ukraine," daniel Mes, a member of the cabinet of Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President of the European Commission, said at the CT4EU online conference "Introducing Zero Carbon Combined Transport" on Thursday, May 19.

The event, organised by the International Union for Road-Rail Combined Transport (UIRR), an organisation of European road and rail operators in combined transport and transhipment terminal managers, was devoted to the role of combined transport in achieving the objectives of the European Green Deal and the Fit for 55 plan. During the conference, Josef Doppelbauer, Executive Director of the EU Agency for Railways (ERA), presented a report on key obstacles to the development of combined transport, which in turn may reduce its importance.

Inefficient use of existing infrastructure
"What is the main problem? Of course, we have a capacity gap in the European rail system. The first step to getting more bandwidth would be to make better use of what we already have, which is the existing infrastructure. As an example, he gave the Rotterdam-Genoa corridor, where on the left bank of the Rhine in France there is a double-track railway line that exists but is not used. So this may be the first step.

Josef Doppelbauer, Executive Director of the EU Railway Agency, source: EU Railway Agency (ERA)

Another obstacle is that during peak hours, capacity is limited and we have an uneven load distribution, especially in terminals. It is also a consequence of our poor planning skills. I am always ashamed that for a truck you can predict the arrival of plus-minus 10 minutes. In turn, we are proud of the plus-minus 12 hours. If you can predict the arrival of a train at the terminal only with an accuracy of half a day, you should not be surprised when there are problems with the cargo."

Physical infrastructure
"To show how important physical infrastructure is, I showed two specific cases (see photo below). This is a very simplified model, but in its conclusions accurate. You have a freight train going at 120 kilometers per hour. On the left you have a 20-kilometer section without the possibility of changing and turnout, on the right you have block sections every five kilometers with a turnout. In short, the situation on the left corresponds to the situation in Germany, where all passing opportunities have been removed in the last few years due to cost, because turnouts and their maintenance are expensive. The right situation is in Austria and Switzerland, where there are a lot of turnouts every few kilometres and where all lines are signalled in both directions.

If we look at the travel time, in both cases it is the same. The capacity on the left is six trains per hour, and on the right 24 trains per hour. But the key problem arises when we find ourselves in a situation of disruption. Since the left track is not marked, you can only run at a speed of 40 kilometers per hour. If it is signaled, you can continue driving at your speed. In deteriorated mode, travel time increases drastically and capacity decreases even more drastically: 1.5 trains per hour on the left and 12 trains per hour, which is still reasonable capacity.

There is a capacity gap in the European rail system, source: screenshot of Josef Doppelbauer's presentation at the CT4EU web conference "Introducing Zero Carbon Combined Transport"

This is a physical structural problem. Rail works in the physical separation of space and time. And when the train in front of you has stopped, you can not overtake it, you need to wait until the track is cleared. In aviation, you can move in three dimensions, on the road you can avoid obstacles, on the tracks you can not. And the most expensive and sophisticated digital technologies will not solve this problem. The key message is that we need proper work on a physical infrastructure that has adequate and frequent overtaking capabilities. Otherwise, we will always have limited options."

Non-harmonised train length
"Another element is compatibility. This means that your vehicles are compatible with the infrastructure. Some key aspects are, of course, the axle load, the load gauge, the signaling system, etc. There is one aspect that does not necessarily have to do with compatibility, but nevertheless it is a very annoying feature, also in the case of combined transport. In Europe, we do not have a harmonised train length. We have a nominal train length of 740 meters, but in some countries we have different definitions of what 740 meters means, in some we have 835 meters and in others 600 meters. In Italy, each railway line has a different length. What does this mean? Either you normalize to the shortest train length, 550 meters, then you lose a lot of bandwidth and efficiency, or you have to switch and roll at every border and again you lose efficiency, time and money.

Author: Mykola Zasiadko