DidYouKnow posts related to SURCO courses

Reviving the Silk Road: How China-Europe Rail Freight is Transforming Global Trade

The Silk Road, historically known as the Silk Route, was an ancient network of trade paths that connected the East and West. Established during the Han Dynasty of China around 130 BCE, it was instrumental in the cultural, commercial, and technological exchange between various civilizations. The Silk Road traversed some of the most diverse terrains, including deserts, mountains, and plains, linking China with India, Persia, the Arabian Peninsula, and Europe.

Named after the lucrative silk trade that flourished during its use, the Silk Road was not a single road but a complex system of interconnected routes. It facilitated the exchange of goods such as silk, spices, tea, precious metals, and other commodities. Beyond goods, it was a conduit for the spread of knowledge, ideas, religion, and culture, profoundly influencing the civilizations it connected.

The Modern Silk Road: An Overview

 Fast forward to the 21st century, and the spirit of the Silk Road has been revived through China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), launched in 2013. This initiative aims to create a modern infrastructure and trade network that echoes the ancient routes, promoting economic cooperation and connectivity on a global scale. One of the most significant components of the BRI is the China-Europe rail freight connection, which serves as a contemporary Silk Road, linking the two continents with a fast and efficient transport route.

The China-Europe rail freight network has transformed global trade dynamics by offering a viable alternative to maritime transport. This intermodal route connects major Chinese cities like Chongqing, Chengdu, Zhengzhou, and Xi’an with key European destinations such as Duisburg, Hamburg, and Madrid. Covering approximately 11,000 kilometers, these rail links traverse multiple countries, including Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, and Poland, before reaching their final destinations in Europe.

Benefits of the China-Europe Rail Freight

  1. Reduced Transit Times: One of the most significant advantages of the China-Europe rail freight is its speed. While maritime transport from China to Europe typically takes 30 to 40 days, rail freight reduces this time to around 12 to 18 days. This dramatic reduction in transit time allows businesses to respond more swiftly to market demands and reduces the need for large inventories.
  2. Cost-Effective: Although rail freight is more expensive than sea transport, it is considerably cheaper than air freight. For many businesses, it strikes an ideal balance between cost and speed, providing a middle ground that meets both budgetary and logistical requirements.
  3. Environmental Benefits: Rail transport is more environmentally friendly compared to air and sea transport. Trains produce fewer CO2 emissions, making them a greener alternative. This aspect is increasingly important as companies strive to reduce their carbon footprint and align with global sustainability goals.
  4. Reliability and Security: Rail freight offers higher reliability and security. Trains run on fixed schedules and are less susceptible to delays caused by weather conditions, port congestions, or other disruptions common in maritime transport. Additionally, railways are less prone to piracy compared to sea routes, enhancing the security of transported goods.

The Economic Impact

The revitalised Silk Road has significantly impacted global trade patterns. By offering a faster and reliable route, the China-Europe rail freight has made it easier for European companies to access Chinese markets and vice versa. This increased connectivity fosters economic cooperation, leading to new business opportunities and investments along the route.

The rail link has also stimulated economic development in the regions it passes through. For instance, cities like Duisburg in Germany have become major logistics hubs, benefiting from increased trade volumes and associated economic activities.

Case Study: The Yiwu-Madrid Route

 The Yiwu-Madrid railway line stands out as a prime example of the success of the China-Europe rail freight network. Yiwu, known as the “world’s supermarket” for its vast wholesale markets, sends a wide range of goods to Madrid, Spain, over a distance of approximately 13,000 kilometers. This route is one of the longest rail links in the world and serves as a critical artery for trade between China and Europe.

Key Highlights of the Yiwu-Madrid Route:

  • Transit Time: The Yiwu-Madrid rail link takes about 16 to 18 days, significantly faster than the traditional maritime route.
  • Freight Volume: The route has seen a steady increase in freight volume since its inception, transporting goods such as electronics, clothing, and machinery.
  • Economic Benefits: The rail link has boosted local economies along the route, creating jobs and promoting infrastructure development. In Madrid, the influx of Chinese goods has enriched the local market, providing consumers with a broader range of products at competitive prices.

The success of the Yiwu-Madrid route underscores the broader potential of the China-Europe rail network. It highlights how modern logistics solutions can bridge vast distances, foster economic ties, and promote sustainable trade practices.

 

Conclusion

The revival of the ancient Silk Road through the China-Europe intermodal connection via rail freight is a transformative development in global trade. By offering reduced transit times, cost-effective logistics, and environmental benefits, this modern Silk Road is reshaping how goods are transported between the East and the West. The success stories like the Yiwu-Madrid route illustrate the tangible benefits and potential of this initiative. As global trade continues to evolve, the China-Europe rail freight network is poised to play an increasingly pivotal role, complementing maritime transport and driving economic growth across continents.

 

References

  1. Belt and Road Initiative
  2. China-Europe Railway Express
  3. Environmental Impact of Rail Transport
  4. Yiwu-Madrid Railway

On Track for the Future: Rail Freight in Europe 2024

This month in our #DidYouKnow series, we’re taking a closer look at the dynamic and ever-evolving world of rail transport. Cast your mind back to 2021, hailed as the European Year of Rail. This initiative wasn’t just a ceremonial nod to an old industry; it symbolised a renewed commitment to transforming Europe’s transport landscape. But what has changed since then? How has rail freight adapted and grown in this period? And more importantly, as we look towards 2024, what are the exciting developments and prospects that lie ahead for rail freight in Europe? In this post, we’ll delve into the successes, the challenges, and the innovative strides shaping the future of rail freight, a sector that’s proving to be more than just a link in our supply chains, but a key to sustainable, efficient, and resilient transportation in Europe.

 

Current State of Rail Freight in Europe

Rail freight is becoming increasingly vital in the European transport landscape, especially in the context of ecological sustainability. As part of the European Green Deal, rail freight is identified as a key player in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The goal? To shift a substantial portion of freight from road to rail, aiming for a 30% share of rail in European freight transport by 2030.

Here’s why rail freight stands out:

  • Emission Efficiency: A freight train emits just 24 grams of greenhouse gases per ton transported and kilometre travelled, making it significantly cleaner than road freight. This efficiency is less than one-fifth of the emissions produced by road freight vehicles.
  • E-Mobility Dominance: The rail freight sector is already ahead in e-mobility. The more we take advantage of green electricity, the closer we get to net-zero emissions.
  • Continued Potential for Improvement: As green energy sources become more prevalent, the rail sector’s environmental footprint is poised to reduce even further.

These are some of the factors that underscore the strategic importance of rail in Europe’s transition to a more sustainable transport network.

Challenges and Opportunities

While the prospects of rail freight in Europe are bright, the path is not without its challenges. A crucial aspect of realizing the EU’s ambitious target for rail freight involves addressing the current obstacles and harnessing the emerging opportunities. So let’s have a look at what they are: 

Obstacles to Growth:

  • Infrastructural Variability: The EU member states present a diverse picture in terms of rail freight capabilities. For instance, while Lithuania boasts a rail freight share of 64.7%, Greece lags behind with just 3.2%. Such disparities reflect the varied infrastructural and economic landscapes across the region.
  • Territorial Fragmentation: Perhaps the most significant hurdle is the lack of standardization. In contrast to road transport’s seamless cross-border operations, rail freight often encounters barriers at national borders due to differing technical standards and regulations. This territorial fragmentation hinders the efficiency and attractiveness of rail freight as a pan-European transport solution.

Opportunities for Advancement:

  • Investment in Infrastructure: According to the latest EU report, there’s been significant investment in rail infrastructure. In 2020, EU Member States reported a total funding of €40.65 billion for rail infrastructure. This investment is pivotal in modernizing and harmonizing rail networks across Europe.
  • Electrification of Tracks: The move towards electrification is noteworthy. With varying rates of network electrification across EU countries, there’s substantial scope for expansion, enhancing both the environmental and operational efficiency of rail freight.

Future Outlook and Things to Look Out for in 2024

As we advance into 2024, the rail freight sector in Europe is poised at an exciting juncture, with several developments worth watching:

  • Increased Infrastructure Investment: Ongoing investment in rail infrastructure will continue to be a major focus, aimed at enhancing efficiency and connectivity across the continent.
  • Advancements in Automation and Digitization: The rail freight industry is rapidly embracing technological innovations. Automation in rail operations promises to enhance efficiency and safety, reducing the reliance on manual processes. Digitization, on the other hand, is set to revolutionize the way freight is managed and tracked, offering more transparent, reliable, and efficient logistics solutions. These advancements are not just futuristic concepts; they are becoming tangible realities that are reshaping the landscape of rail freight.
  • Standardization Efforts: The push towards standardization across the EU rail network is expected to gain momentum. This will facilitate smoother cross-border rail freight movement, making it a more attractive option for shippers.
  • Growth in Rail’s Freight Share: With these initiatives and investments, an increase in rail’s share of the overall freight transport market in Europe is anticipated. This growth will be a testament to the sector’s adaptability and commitment to meeting the evolving demands of trade and commerce.

These trends signal a robust future for rail freight, contributing significantly to a more sustainable and interconnected Europe.

Concluding thoughts

As we look towards the future, the significance of rail freight in Europe’s transport network becomes increasingly clear. Since the European Year of Rail in 2021, the journey towards 2024 has been marked by remarkable strides, setting the stage for an even more promising path ahead.

Innovations in rail technology, including automation and digitalization, are set to revolutionize freight transport. These advancements are not just about enhancing efficiency; they’re about reshaping how goods move across Europe. Moreover, the strengthening of supply chain resilience through rail freight is becoming increasingly crucial in a rapidly changing global trade landscape.

The road ahead involves enhanced cooperation among EU nations, key to overcoming the challenge of territorial fragmentation and achieving a truly integrated rail network. This cooperation is vital not only for the internal dynamics of the EU but also for its role in global trade and logistics, where rail freight offers a reliable and efficient alternative to other modes of transport.

In light of these exciting developments, our upcoming course on intermodal freight operations – SURCO Aragón. It’s an opportunity for professionals to gain critical skills in optimising transport operations, balancing cost, time, and environmental considerations, with a special focus on integrating rail for maximum efficiency and sustainability.

Are you ready to be at the forefront of this exciting sector? Explore this edition of our SURCO course in intermodal freight operations (offered in Spanish) and gain the expertise to optimise your transport operations, integrating rail for maximum efficiency and sustainability. 

Join us in shaping the future of transport!

We’ve done our research – so should you! Check out our sources below to delve more deeply into the topic: 

SOURCES 

  1. “The Future of Rail Freight in Europe” – DHL Freight Connections. DHL Freight Connections.
  2. “What has changed in European rail: the highlights of the latest EU report” – RailTech, October 2023. RailTech Article
  3. European Environment Agency. European Environment Agency Website.
  4. European Commission – European Green Deal. European Green Deal Information.
  5. European Commission’s Transport and Mobility Overview. European Commission – Transport.
  6. EU Infrastructure Investment Reports. EU Infrastructure Investment Data.
  7. European Railway Review: Articles and reports on the latest trends and future projections in rail transport within Europe. European Railway Review.

The future begins with the letter “R” for the railway

Written by José Andrés Arribas Navarro, Economist and Manager at FAPROVE

We want to talk about the railway. But before that, I wanted to share a brief preamble.

The easiest thing in life is making decisions. The difficult part is ensuring that these decisions are good. To make good decisions, one must not be swayed by the opinions of those in power, pressure groups, short-sighted interests, or dangerous friendships. You need to be convinced and believe in what you’re proposing. The commitment to these decisions should have a long-term perspective, durability over time, and aim to improve the well-being, optimizing the quality of life for all current stakeholders and even future generations.

This is the essence of nation-building and societal improvement. It’s only after many years that we can fully grasp the significance of such a commitment, understand its true scope, and admire the visionary leader who, despite facing numerous challenges, bravely defended the long-term interests of a nation’s citizens against the self-serving and detrimental interests of a privileged few.

I mention this reflection because history has offered us numerous instances of favorable decisions that have enhanced our quality of life. These improvements were made possible through the boldness of visionaries who, in their time, overcame opposition from those motivated by personal and self-serving interests.

The current state of freight rail in the United States can be explained by Lincoln’s determination.

In the latter half of the 19th century, within the United States, each state and private company held the authority to construct railways and determine their own track gauges. Remarkably, by 1871, a staggering 23 distinct gauges existed, ranging from 914 to 1829 mm. The resistance to standardizing rail gauges was rooted in the fact that substantial profits were generated by transferring goods between various trains at state borders, creating employment opportunities through hospitality, trade, maintenance, and more.

Without delving into the debates that unfolded at the end of the Civil War, which centred on the necessity of standardizing track gauges and ending the prevalent disorder, what deserves emphasis is the decision-making process behind finding a long-term solution with a wide-ranging vision, enduring sustainability, and benefits for future generations. In 1865, Abraham Lincoln, after listening to voices from both the South and North and likely recognizing the adoption of ‘Stephenson’s gauge’ by the British Parliament in 1846 (fixing the track gauge at approximately 4 feet 8½ inches or 1,435 mm), resolved that the transcontinental railroad should adopt the 1,435 mm gauge. The project was successfully completed in 1869 at Promontory, Utah. It’s highly probable that a significant portion of the current freight transportation by rail in the United States can be attributed to Lincoln’s unwavering determination.

Turning our attention to a different continent, the 20th century introduced us to another visionary figure whose decision-making was rooted in a concern for future generations. Robert Schuman’s contributions stand as a testament to his unwavering commitment to laying the foundation for the modern European Union. Our gratitude for his relentless efforts can never be overstated.

What’s truly captivating about this idea sown more than seven decades ago is its role in nurturing progress, cultivating democratic values, and fostering solidarity among nations. It has also paved the way for ‘erga omnes’ measures. Presently, the EU comprises 27 member countries out of the 50 on the European continent, with ongoing requests for membership in this exclusive alliance. The departure of the United Kingdom in 2020 serves as a conspicuous example of a misguided decision driven by populism, short-term objectives, and leaders lacking a forward-thinking vision for the well-being of future generations.

The “Digital Automatic Coupling” (DAC) system goes beyond coupling and uncoupling train cars.

The purpose of this extensive preamble is to underscore that it is by no means a coincidence that, just a few weeks ago, on July 10th, an unprecedented sectoral declaration was issued, advocating for the adoption of the ‘Digital Automatic Coupling’ (DAC) system as the standard for implementation across the European railway industry in the context of freight transportation. The DAC’s significance extends beyond the conventional aspects of physically coupling and uncoupling freight train cars without human intervention, which has been the traditional practice. It also encompasses the realm of digitalization, achieved through electrical connections, thus bolstering connectivity and data efficiency. This transformative technology enables the automation of various railway operations, including electronic waybills, train documentation, real-time information, and more. In doing so, it ushers in a genuine revolution aligned with the EU’s Green Deal objectives, with a keen focus on sustainability, decarbonization, and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

In this declaration, all the undersigned parties, including European railway associations, railway companies, manufacturers, wagon owners, carriers, as well as national and European customer associations—comprising over 70 entities across the value chain—demonstrate their unwavering commitment to endorsing automation and digitalization as the future industry standard. This collective commitment is anticipated to pave the way for a safer and more contemporary work environment for employees. Furthermore, in the long term, it is envisioned to be the cornerstone for the revitalization of rail freight transport, fostering its wider adoption and aligning it with ecological and sustainable practices in Europe. The document comprehensively outlines the current scenario and proposes the establishment of a Centralized European Deployment Management Entity, entrusted with overseeing the attainment of three pivotal milestones within this ambitious plan:

  1. The creation of a governing entity responsible for framing the legal and budgetary foundation,
  2. The pre-deployment of DAC, scheduled from 2025 to 2028, dedicated to large-scale testing, and
  3. The formal deployment of the DAC system commencing in 2028.

The verdict from Brussels will shape the destiny of 500,000 freight cars, potentially rendering them interoperable, elevating the market share of rail freight, and realizing the goals of the Green Deal. Most crucially, it will determine the continued growth and prosperity of Robert Schuman’s ‘father of Europe’ vision.

 

This article originally appeared on the El Mercantil website in Spanish. It is being published here with the author’s permission: https://elmercantil.com/opiniones/futuro-empieza-por-f-de-ferrocarril/

Rail as key strategic freight transport

Railway is key part of the Spanish and European commitment to decarbonise the freight transport sector. Initiatives such as ‘ecoincentivos’, digitalisation, and automation, or “usage per load volume” are some of the challenges and characteristics that have been identified to help include rail as strategic freight transport.

Spain has the most kilometres of high-speed rail (3,402) in the European Union, and is the second country in the world (only surpassed by China). Nevertheless, despite these impressive numbers, beyond the road infrastructure equipment there are still several services linked to this transport that need to be developed, including the developments of digitalisation and the lack of equipment for its use. 

Within the area of freight transport (discounting passenger traffic), the commitment to multimodal supply chains could be the key to achieving the ambitious objectives of the European Union toward environmental goals; especially by making use of an existing and easily applicable means of transport such as rail. 

 

SURCO Operations II, que será en Madrid del 23 al 31 de enero 2023.

SURCO Operations II, que será en Madrid del 23 al 31 de enero 2023.

 

According to the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER), transport accounts for 31% of energy consumption of land transport in the European Union. Rail, for its part, is seven times more efficient than road transport. In terms of emissions, rail accounts for 0.4% of all transport. If only freight transport were to be taken into account, the railway would play a fundamental role to reach a sustainable system and meet the global objectives set, since the train emits 80% less CO2 than its equivalent by road, according to sources from El Economista. In addition to reducing emissions, it reduces external costs by up to 50%: a train replaces 40 lorries and thus helps decongest roads, reduce accidents and lowers noise. It also consumes six times less energy and is eight times better in terms of air pollution.

 

Within freight transport, commitment to using multimodal supply chains could be the key to achieving global objectives, especially by making use of an existing and easily applicable means of transport such as rail.

According to Xavier Flores, the General Secretary of Infrastructures of the Spanish Government, one of the challenges towards achieving the expansion of this system is the fact that only between 4% and 5% of the total freight is moved by rail in Spain. 

 

The most efficient freight transport 

The following factors can be attributed to the efficiency of rail transport:  

  1. Low resistance: thanks to the wheel tread, the elastic deformation of the wheel-rail contact is comparatively low, as both elements are made of steel.  
  1. Optimal aerodynamic drag: In long trains, the friction depends mainly on the cross-section of the vehicle, not the length. This results in minimal energy consumption. 
  1. High-capacity transport: especially when the train reaches European standards of 740 m in length, and by boosting the electrification of railway lines, rail transport becomes a much more sustainable and competitive mode of transport than road for medium and long distances.  

Key for decarbonizing the transport sector 

There are several agreements that have created a roadmap for transport to reduce emissions: the 2030 Agenda, the Paris Agreement and the Green Deal in Europe are just some of them.  

In 2011, the European Commission’s White Paper set a target of shifting 30% of road freight transport over 300 km to rail or inland waterways by 2030. Since then, European governments, institutions and companies have been working to reach agreements to tackle climate change. Combined or multimodal transport has been presented as the most economically and environmentally sustainable option solution for achieving this goal.  

‘Ecoincentivos’: a commitment to the environment 

To get on board the decarbonisation train and encourage the use of rail for freight transport, the Spanish Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda (Mitma) promoted the ‘eco-incentives’ programme. This was designed to last for the upcoming three years within the framework of the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan. 

This initiative has encountered some setbacks, as it is only applicable for those companies that have or will see a minimum growth of 8% in the volume of cargo transported. During the first half of the year this figure was being reached by almost all rail companies in the sector. Nevertheless, starting from June 2022, there was a radical turn downwards experienced by the dependence on such sectors as: chemical, aluminium, metallurgical or automotive, industries which in turn have also seen a fall in their activities, according to sources from the newspaper Transporte XXI. 

Because of this, the Ministry of Transport is considering reformulating its aid plan in view of the decrease in activity suffered by railway companies in the second half of the year. However, the unused part of the total allocated budget for the current year (20 million) will not be lost, but will be rolled over to 2023. 

Furthermore, in accordance with the proposals set out in the “Safe, Sustainable and Connected Mobility Strategy” 2030 of the Mitma (Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda of Spain), called “Intermodal and Smart Logistics Chains”, the Mercancías 30 initiative was announced and will be launched, aiming to promote rail freight transport as the backbone of multimodal logistics chains. From the dual perspective of the post-COVID19 economic recovery and the achievement of the objectives of decarbonisation and sustainability of transport. This programme will allocate around 8.8 billion euros for the development of rail freight, both for infrastructure (6.8 billion euros) and equipment (2 billion euros). All actions are to be carried out before 2030.  

The long road towards digitisation  

The road to rail digitisation is a long one, with outdated systems and obsolete technology being among the main challenges to optimisation. According to McKinsey’s report titled ‘Digitizing Europe’s railways: A call to action‘ (2020), despite its robustness, Europe’s railways have outdated systems that are increasingly difficult to maintain. Some major European railways have several types of interlockings, some of which are more than a century old and use very obsolete technology. 

According to a PierNext article – an initiative of the Port Authority of Barcelona – to become the transport mode of the decarbonised Europe, railway must meet five digital axes: 

  1. Digitalising and interconnecting infrastructures 

  1. Automation as the basis for its operations and infrastructures 

  1. Processing and exploiting data 

  1. Run everything in the Cloud 

  1. Safety and security as top priorities  

The European rail sector can continue to promote technology systems. Digitalisation is key to this, especially when looking to become the central freight transport system in Europe and Spain.  The challenge is significant, as the window of opportunity is narrow, and regardless of their interests or wills, the whole industry must be willing to collaborate to drive change. 

The potential gains in cost and capacity efficiency, as well as the benefits of reduced CO2 emissions, are considerable, both within and outside Spain and Europe. To achieve this, operators, governments and companies must cooperate and act to promote the use of rail and co-modality as the most economically and environmentally sustainable response to today’s global challenges. 

 

Look out for our upcoming courses: SURCO Madrid 2023 – Escola Europea – Intermodal Transport

Connecting Europe Express

Written by: Lidia Slawinska

Written by: Lidia Slawinska – Digital Communications Manager Escola Europea – Intermodal Transport

As 2021 is drawing to a close, it is interesting to consider how far rail has progressed this year. With the 2021 Climate Conference highlighting the needs of the developed nations to hasten their efforts to curb CO2 emissions, the concept of rail has gained further promise in the eyes of many European governments. In this #DidYouKnow article, and in anticipation of the 2021 SURCO Operations II course which will take place in the first month of 2022, we decided to focus on one experiment recently launched by the European Union to try to evaluate the status of rail on the European continent – namely the Connecting Europe Express.

What is (was) the Connecting Europe Express?

The project was launched by the European Union to shine a spotlight on the various interoperability issues that currently plague the continent, as well as to highlight the cooperation of many companies and implicated parties from different nations. The project, which involved one train journey, lasted 36 days visiting 26 European countries with the ultimate goal of helping the public better understand what difficulties European rail faces in current times in efforts to become the preferred mode for both passengers and freight.

The actual “Express” comprised 3 gauges trains to allow for transit in all of the countries on the itinerary. Throughout its journey, which began on the 2nd of September 2021, the train traversed 20 000km through 33 border crossings. It made 100 stops and included 5 overnight trips. It did all of this with the support of more than 40 railway partners from numerous European countries.  It began its journey in Lisbon (Portugal) and arrived at its final destination in Paris on the 7th of October 2021.

Freight transport in the spotlight

There is no doubt that freight transport has a myriad of advantages over other forms of transport – notably in terms carbon emissions, comfort and cost. Though it is not without faults, it does provide an excellent solution to many transport companies who are seeking to diminish their carbon footprints and help bring to life the climate-protecting goals set by international organisations.

The Connecting Europe Express showed that through rail, both passengers and businesses could benefit. The project also shone a spotlight on the work that the European Union still has left in terms of conflicting and incomplete infrastructures that complicate the train journeys on the continent (the three gauges being one of the complications).

In terms of freight transport, the Express  was able to educate the public on the concept of the rolling roads. The train stopped at the Brenner Pass in Austria during its journey – a vital opportunity to highlight the advantages of train for truckers. The Brenner Pass is a connecting point from the road to the “rolling road” – a concept that allows trucks to pass certain segments of their journeys on the trains. The trucks can roll onto the trains, giving the drivers the opportunity to enjoy the comforts of a passenger train carriage. The rolling roads can now transport most types of lorries and have proven to be safe and cost-preserving (with the possibilities of avoiding tolls and fuel charges). The added publicity and awareness that was raised during this stop helped shine some light on such complementary options for truckers and road transport companies.

 The European Year Rail

This year has been declared the European Year of Rail. The European Union has spent the year promoting this mode of transport in spite of the complications imposed by the Covid-19 restrictions. The Connecting Europe Express was the EU’s flagship project – it helped both raise awareness for everything that rail has to offer, and to highlight what still must be done to ensure the optimal use of this mode.

Intermodal transport is the lifeline of the Escola Europea, and we have been offering courses that highlight the advantages and disadvantages of the various modes of transport since our inception. Rail became a staple of our courses in 2009 with the launch of SURCO (Simple Use Railway Connections). Our training offer continually adapts to the technological, environmental, and societal changes that take place in the sector, and the courses offer real-life case studies from professionals active in the sector. Our SURCO Operations II course also includes visits to Perpignan, where participants can witness actual rolling road operations in the Le Boulou Lorry Rail terminal.

If you are interested to learn more, you can head to the SURCO page on our website, or find out more about our upcoming course in January here.

Sources:

European Rail Traffic Management System

The European Rail Traffic Management System – ERTMS

This month, in preparation for our upcoming SURCO – Rail Operations course which will take place in the fall of 2021, we have decided to focus on the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS)- an intiative that will be instrumental in the creation of a Single European Railway Area.

Creating a Single European Railway Area

Written by: Lidia Slawinska, Consultant

Rail transport forms an integral part of the intermodal supply chain. European ports have spent the last decades investing in port-rail connections that make it easy to transfer freight from the ship onto a train and vice versa. Countries have been focusing on standardising or facilitating transfers between different gauge dimensions in European countries. France has even gone so far as to start banning flights (passenger and cargo) between destinations that can be reached by train within a radius of 2 hours from the points of origin.

There is no doubt that in the sustainability focused post-Covid world rail is taking centre stage. This is why, in this month’s issue of #DidYouKnow, we decided to focus on the European Rail Traffic Management System.

On the opening day of the European Year of Rail 2021, the EU transport commissioner Adina Valean has emphasized the need to incorporate a digital layer to the physical rail infrastructures to improve network use, increase capacity and enhance safety. This means deploying the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) and automating where necessary. “Only when we have a single system in Europe will we stop interchanging locomotives at borders,” Valean said. Instead of focusing on investing in new railway lines, operators and public authorities need to work on increasing capacity on existing lines, whilst working on the new digital infrastructure which will complement the physical infrastructures helping to make it more economical and accessible. So what exactly is this system?

What is the ERTMS?

Essentially, the European Rail Traffic Management System was created with the goal of replacing the various different national train control and command systems prevalent across the European Union – and therewith creating a seamless European railway system, and increasing the region’s global competitiveness. It can be looked at having two basic components:

  • The European Train Control System (ETCS) – an automatic train protection system (ATP) that will work towards replacing existing national train protection systems;
  • The GSM-R, a radio system that will provide voice and data communication between the tracks and the trains. It does so by using GSM frequencies specifically reserved for rail application.

 What are the benefits?

ERTMS is working towards being the train control system that brings significant advantages in terms of maintenance costs savings, safety, reliability, punctuality and traffic capacity. These can be classed as following:

  • Interoperability – no longer would international train management systems clash
  • Increased Safety – The speed of the trains travelling across the system would continuously be monitored, therewith providing greater international train protection;
  • Increased Capacity – Tracking all trains across one network will allow for a reduction in the minimum distance between the trains, therewith increasing overall capacity;
  • Higher performance – Punctuality is increase because of the higher level of monitoring and evaluation prevalent across the ERTMS. This also lowers the potential for failures, further increasing the standards of the network;
  • Greater competitiveness – the seamless market for rail transport on the European continent will make rail more competitive in relation to road transport. Cross-border rail services will also be facilitated, further improving rail’s outlook;
  • Lower maintenance costs – The costs would be reduced from a lower number of trackside components. Being separated into various levels of development, this reduction would increase with the increase in higher levels;
  • Staff – Though not replacing any jobs, the ERMTS would digitalise certain sections of the rail management system, therewith solving an issue related to ageing staff – currently troubling the rail industry;
  • Digitalisation – ERTMS, and its upcoming new radio transmission subsystem Future Railway Mobile Communication System (FRMCS) is an enabler of digitalisation in the railway system;
  • Sustainability – By making the rail sector more competitive, ERTMS helps to level the playing field with road transport and ultimately provides significant environmental gains.

Already operational in Europe, the system is also slowly becoming the train control system of choice in other countries such as China, India, Taiwan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia.

What are the drawbacks?

As with any system, there are potential problems that can arise through the use of the ERMTS.

  • Complexity – the ERTMS sub-system comprises complex interfaces, which need to be developed to function seamlessly across the entire network.
  • Cost – the ERTMS comes with high costs both in terms of trackside deployment and retrofitting.
  • Time – With regard to ERTMS trackside deployment, demanding requirements in many public procurements resulted in lengthy tenders and delays in project delivery. Timing was also detected in errors found in the final testing stages – which should have been detected during the verification and validation processes.
  • Interoperability – Different parts of the network may have different technical specificities, and they might also have different operational requirements. The European Railway Agency is working with individual states to eliminate National Technical Requirements (NTRs) in each country to improve the ERTMS’ interoperability
  • Funding – The funding provided by each state alone is not sufficient. A significant portion is needed to come from the EU – and the EU has expressed its commitment to support the ERTMS.

The future of ERTMS

Currently the European Rail Transport Management System is already in use in commercial projects across the 9 core network corridors. Though still in its early stages, the system is being trialed to make sure that it can be fully deployed in the European area in the near future. Rail transport is integral to sustainable and clean transport, and therewith ensuring a seamless and innovative door-to-door supply chain that incorporates various modes of transport. Currently the European Union has selected Matthias Ruete as the European coordinator for the ERTMS. Ruete will be working with the rail sector to further deploy ERTMS along the EU’s rail network, giving the necessary political impetus for the project and the realisation of the Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2016 between the European Commission, the European Union Agency for Railways and the European rail sector associations (CER, EIM, EPTTOLA, ERFA, the ERTMS Users Group, GSM-R Industry Group, UIC,UNIFE and UNISIG). Altogether, all of this work will prove invaluable towards the creation of a single European Railway Area – furthering the vision of efficient, sustainable and innovative European transport.

 

Sources:

Railway Lines

The essential railway infrastructure and equipment – Spotlight on Spain

The European railway system transports around 1.6 billion tonnes of freight each year. The railway is central to the EU’s strategy for a more sustainable transport sector, helping ensure economic and social cohesion and connecting Europeans within and between Member States.

The density of the national rail networks reflects the different geographical characteristics of the countries, with the Nordic and Baltic countries having the lowest rail network density on the continent.

Rail has the potential to play an important role in accelerating the reduction of transport emissions. “Rail only represented 2% of total transport energy consumption in the EU, while representing for 11.2% of freight and 6.6% of passengers in all modes of transport in 2016” (data from the Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the European Council, 2019). However, rail freight also has a number of other advantages: improved safety of goods compared to other means, lower accident rates, more storage capacity as a large volume of cargo can be transported over very long distances, and the potential for intermodality, if necessary.

Maintaining and renewing the existing network to improve safety and operational performance as well as ensuring a reliable service is a major challenge for infrastructure managers, especially in the face of increased traffic and demanding performance targets set by national authorities and operators.

This results in a number of disadvantages that caused this means to not be one of the most used for the transport of goods. It is conditional on the existence of infrastructures that are non-existent in some European countries. In addition, this means that, unlike other means, there are very few occasions when it can reach the warehouse or the final destination of the goods without the help of complementary means (such as the road).

Mandatory Intermodality

Rail transport falls under the intermodality umbrella, as it requires road transport to chauffer the goods from the point of origin to the railways, and to their final destinations. Rail gauge: The width of the gauge can differ from one country to another, which can cause difficulties in the transhipment of goods, and thus result in a significant increase in the expense of money and time.

The EU’s railways continue to grow. Rail markets are gradually opening up and safety levels remain high. This sector is increasingly demanding in terms of performance, innovation and responsiveness to customer needs. Rail transport’s fight to increase its modal share remains centered around interoperability and cross-border coordination issues. Corridors are a key part of the Commission’s policy to boost rail freight. The Rail Freight Regulation and the train drivers Directive are still being evaluated in order to boost and facilitate rail transport.

Spain

Locomotive of RENFE - the Spanish railway operator

In Spain, the railway represents around 4% of the total freight transport market. This market share has decreased in recent years in favour of road transport. Although part of this trend is common to other countries, the rail market share in Spain is much smaller. For example, rail represents 19% of the total goods market in Germany and 15% in France –  nearly four times the Spanish equivalent.

If the sector can convince transporters to opt for rail motorways to reduce costs, and get exporters and importers to bring their goods to the ports through the use of the rail, it is likely to grow in the coming years.

To improve international rail freight traffic, France and Spain have re-launched two rail motorways between the two countries, through a call for expressions of interest. This marks the first step in finding out whether or not the infrastructure is viable in the region.

Intrigued? The Escola organises courses focusing in particular on maritime rail and maritime-road intermodal solutions, called SURCO. Contact us if you’d like to know more and to find out when the next courses will take place.

Written by:

  • Raquel Nunes – Co-founder of Youngship Portugal

#DidYouKnow – Rail transport and the development of the Iberian Peninsula as a Hub – Atlantic Corridor

Should Spain and Portugal jointly boost investment in infrastructure of rail transport? This is a question that is currently on the minds of the operators and actors active in the rail transport sector on the Iberian peninsula. To coincide with the European Union’s goals on sustainable development, the sector still has a long way to go to garner a portion of the market share currently occupied by maritime and road transport.

“The Portuguese and Spanish governments should increase their budgets for rail and port infrastructure” is the European Commission’s recommendation. Portuguese ports are considered as potential European import hubs because of their geographical location on the Atlantic coast. In this context, investment in port and rail infrastructure should be encouraged. The European rail system transports around 1.6 billion tonnes of goods each year. Rail transport is fundamental to the European Union’s strategy for a more sustainable transport sector, for economic and social cohesion and for connecting European countries within and between Member States.

Some of the main European modal corridors link Portugal and Spain, thus contributing to the improvement of connections between the centre of the EU and its peripheral regions, whilst strengthening the position of the Iberian Peninsula as a portal to Western Europe.

There are two main European corridors entering the Iberian Peninsula: the Atlantic Corridor and the Mediterranean Corridor. Looking at the Spanish rail network, we have the Atlantic corridor, which connects the French border of Irun/Hendaye with Portugal via Vitoria, Burgos and Valladolid, with a branch that goes south via Madrid, Lisbon and the port of Algeciras. The Mediterranean Corridor runs from the French border at Portbou/Cerbère to the port of Algeciras and Seville along the Mediterranean coast, through Barcelona and Valencia. In  Portugal, the Atlantic Corridor begins in Lisbon and the port of Sines, then moves eastwards through Spain (through Badajoz-Elvas). Another branch goes to Aveiro and Porto, and then moves eastwards to Spain through Vilar Formoso-Salamanca.

“The mission of the Atlantic Corridor principally covers the management of existing infrastructures, without additional investments, through centralized management of capacity allocation, traffic management and costumer relationship.” This project arose with the common objective of the governments of Portugal, Spain, France and Germany to increase the competitiveness and modal share of international rail freight transport and to jointly overcome technical and operational barriers. The Atlantic Corridor is integrated into the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) and is connected to the Mediterranean Corridor and the North Sea-Mediterranean Corridor. The extension of the Atlantic Corridor to Germany will allow direct connections with two other corridors, namely the Rhine-Alps and the future Rhine-Danube.

With a total length of more than 6,200 km, the main heterogeneous technical characteristics in terms of infrastructure that need to be improved stand out: the presence of the European gauge (1435 mm) in France and Germany and the larger Iberian gauge (1668 mm) in Portugal and Spain; electrified sections with differing voltages; and different signaling systems. The aim of the Atlantic Corridor is to coordinate investment in order to homogenize the technical characteristics of the infrastructures throughout the participating countries in this project.

EU railways continue to grow. Rail markets are gradually opening up and safety levels remain high. This sector is increasingly demanding more innovation and responsiveness to customer needs. Rail transport’s fight to increase its modal share continues to center around interoperability and cross-border coordination issues. Corridors are essential elements of the Commission’s policy to boost rail freight transport. If the sector can convince haulers to opt for rail motorways to reduce costs, and exporters and importers to transport their freight to ports by rail, it is very likely to grow in the coming years and thus continue to align itself with the EU’s mission towards the sustainable development of transport on the continent.

Intrigued? The Escola will delve into these and other railway related subjects in great depth during the upcoming Port2Rail course, set to take place in October 2019. Check out the course programme here.

Written by:

  • Raquel Nunes, Training Programmes & External Relations Manager (Escola Europea – Intermodal Transport)