30. August 2016

Rail freight bosses demand upgrades for longer freight trains

Longer freight trains: German rail network still not compatible with 740 metre standard length

More economic and environmentally friendly: longer freight trains offer great potential
A freight train as far as the eye can see? Not in Germany, where only 11 percent of trains operating are of the standard length of 740 metres. This is often due to minor bottlenecks on the network.

Berlin, August 30 2016. Campaign for longer freight trains: The major players in Germany’s rail freight transport sector are arguing that the entire domestic rail network should be upgraded to allow standard length, 740 metre freight trains to operate. In reply to a request from the not-for-profit Pro-Rail Alliance, the heads of DB Cargo, SBB Cargo, Havelland Railway and the Port of Hamburg Railway said that if upgrades to enable longer trains are made quickly, the potential for shifting freight to rail will be greatly increased and the efficiency of rail freight transport will be improved. By targeting efforts on alleviating a few bottlenecks in the German network – at reasonable cost – the benefits to the economy will be considerable. The rail freight bosses also agreed that the bottlenecks in Germany have now also become a problem for the European rail freight transport system. According to Deutsche Bahn, the European standard train length of 740 metres is not compatible with many routes in Germany. Because of mostly minor network restrictions, only 11 percent of freight trains operating in Germany  are of normal length.

The Port of Hamburg: all large terminals are ready for longer freight trains

The director of the Port of Hamburg Railways, Harald Kreft, pointed out that Hamburg’s port is already prepared for longer freight trains. “Both the rail infrastructure in the Port of Hamburg and the all the large terminals are capable of handling block trains with a length of 740 metres. So we would like to operate longer trains, but we don’t”. Network bottlenecks in the port’s hinterland – particularly on the Prague/Czech Republic and Leipzig relations – mean that many shorter trains have to compete for limited capacity. “If we could operate standard length, 740 metre trains we would be able to transport the same volume of freight with fewer trains and would use fewer slots.” For the train operators, running to almost full capacity from Hamburg’s harbour to its hinterland, enabling 740 metre trains to operate throughout the network would mean an immediate double-digit increase in efficiency. On average, between eight and twelve more containers could be transported, reckoned the Port of Hamburg director. “The productivity boost would benefit everybody: the freight train operators, the shippers, the economy and – last but not least – the environment,” said Kreft. “If the government were to target the railway network’s weak points, it would automatically be addressing the unfair competitive conditions that exist between the environmentally friendly rail freight railways and the roads.”

Havelland Railway: potential in the east is particularly high

Ludolf Kerkeling, member of the management board at the Havelland Railway HVLE, is hoping longer freight trains will mean an efficiency increase of up to 25 percent, particularly in the east. “The 740 metre trains will be a quantum leap. Currently, we have to shorten our trains to 600 metres, sometimes for the simple reason that a signal is in the wrong position,” said Kerkeling. The additional volume of goods like grains and other bulk goods that HVLE could transport with longer freight trains would be the equivalent of 2,400 trucks per month, reckons Kerkeling. “Competition between rail and roads is fierce and price is the only deciding factor. But upgrading the network for standard length trains of 740 metres would cost a comparatively small amount of money.” Compared with other European countries, Germany has already fallen behind on upgrading its rail network, said the HVLE boss. “Of course our neighbours also have bottlenecks, but they are actively upgrading. For example, the Dutch with the Betuwe line or the Swiss with the Gotthard base tunnel. Unfortunately, the investment backlog in Germany reflects poorly on the country.” If politicians were to act quickly “it would take two to three years to upgrade the main corridors and five to ten years to upgrade the entire network for 740 metre trains. The freight train operators would grit their teeth and live with the inconvenience caused by construction if the reward was an improved network,” said Kerkeling.

SBB Cargo International: 740 metre upgrades for access to Gotthard

Michail Stahlhut, chairman of SBB Cargo International, reckons the volume of rail freight on the north-south corridor through the new Gotthard base tunnel will be immediately increased by a third. This would reduce the current freight volume on the roads by around 10 percent. “Because the new Gotthard tunnel is built for trains measuring 740 metres in length, we can transport around 30 percent more freight using the same number of trains,” reckons Stahlhut. “The Gotthard tunnel is a massive opportunity for Europe’s rail freight sector.” This is why neighbouring countries must now also upgrade their rail networks for longer freight trains. “Italy is already making its network fit for 740 metre trains. In the German government’s current infrastructure plan, a decision on long freight trains has surprisingly been put on hold,” criticised Stahlhut. “A small amount of money would lead to a large boost in efficiency if the length of freight trains could be increased to 740 metres,” said the chairman of SBB Cargo International. “Germany should really make the most of this opportunity”.

Lokomotion Rail: upgrades for mega-trains on the main routes

Armin Riedl, managing director of the Munich-based Lokomotion Rail, also complained about bottlenecks on cross-border rail freight transport. “Lokomotion mainly operates trains to and from Italy. Currently we can only run trains with a maximum length of 550 metres, which is due to limitations on the Italian network. Improvements on the Italian side are in view for 2018,” said Riedl. For the German network, the Lokomotion Rail boss wants to see rapid upgrades to the main routes to enable longer freight trains. In view of the capacity being created in neighbouring countries, Riedl appealed to government officials to plan for growth. “With longer trains we can shift more goods from the roads. On selected routes it would be advantageous to already begin upgrading for 1,000 metre trains,” said Riedl, citing the Emmerich – Oberhausen route as an example, where 690 metre trains can already operate. “The state is currently completely reconstructing the line. But instead of taking the opportunity to go to 1,000 metres, upgrades will only allow 740 metre trains, whereas on the other side the Dutch can already operate 1,000 metre trains today. So there will be no progress for decades,” complained the rail freight boss, saying other examples were Rhine/Ruhr – Poland, Hamburg – Munich, Emmerich – Basel.

DB Cargo: reduction of unit price by enabling longer trains

For the chairman of DB Cargo, Jürgen Wilder, upgrading the network for longer freight trains would also be an efficiency boost. “The length of the train is our most effective lever for lowering the unit cost in rail freight transport, as was demonstrated by our pilot project for longer freight trais on the Maschen – Padborg route,” said Wilder. The DB Cargo boss favours rapid upgrades to the main corridors because rail freight would also gain ground in its competition with road transport. “We need the upgrades to 740 metres that will allow standard-length trains to cross the network on the main corridors. Only in this way can rail freight transport become more competitive with the roads, in terms of both price and quality.

Freight forwarder Zippel: price gap between HGVs and freight trains

“As a freight forwarder it is up to me how I transport goods,” said Axel Kröger, CEO and shareholder of Konrad Zippel. “In a direct comparison of rail and road, Konrad Zippel transports 70 percent of freight by train.” However, the economic conditions are currently very unfavourable for rail freight transport. “Reduced road tolls on trucks and the low cost of diesel are giving road transport a boost,” said Kröger. “And precisely because climate concerns mean politicians need to make more use of rail freight transport, increasing the length of freight trains would be an extremely smart move. Kröger reckons that upgrading the network to the European standard would immediately lead to a marked reduction in HGV traffic. “Every single train with a length of 740 metres will shift freight from an additional eight truck loads from the roads.”

Pro-Rail Alliance: 740 metre network must be given priority

The managing director of the German Pro-Rai Alliance, Dirk Flege, called on politicians to get things moving on network upgrades for 740 metre trains. “The tasks are clearly defined: the federal transport ministry should quickly conclude its evaluation process for the 740 metre network, which has now finally begun, thus enabling the federal parliament to debate the relevant legislation in October.” Flege estimates that the 66 upgrade measures identified by the network operator DB Netz will only cost between 200 and 300 million euros. “The measures will greatly benefit the economy and the environment and are not difficult to implement. It often only involves moving signals and extending passing loops,” said Flege, who called for urgency. “Longer freight trains are already operating in neighbouring countries. Denmark has trains with a length of 835 metres, France is planning freight trains measuring 1,000 metres from 2018,” said Flege. According to the EU Commission, all routes on Europe’s core rail networks should be upgraded to allow trains with a length of at least 740 metres to operate by 2030.


Additional Information (German):

Background: where freight trains could be longer

Chart: development of the price gap between HGVs and freight trains 2010 – 2016

Business wants more rail freight: modal shift concepts from Henkel and BASF

EU per capita investment: Germany is lagging behind on network construction