Single wagon transport, hardly supported, although effective

With an annual traffic volume of around 100 billion tonnes/km, single wagon load transport covers half the entire freight transport market in Europe. Such transports represent an important link in the economic chain of many European countries dominated by divided industry and agriculture and reduced scope. However, the SWL transport is not profitable, as the economic downturn has triggered an increase in this type of transport, but it didn’t stimulate the SWL’s profitability.

The client will choose single wagon load transportation when he wants to dispatch one or several wagons at the time but does not have enough quantity to fill a full train (block train). Sorting and distributing the goods are essential for a successful single wagon load system and the trains are loaded in switch yards or depots. Block trains is less complex than single wagon loads, as this type of train doesn’t have to stop in switch yards for shunting procedures. Logistically speaking, single wagon load transport can be compared with hub and spoke system (all goods are brought together for sorting and then shipped to different directions). “Currently, the share of international single wagon traffic is a lot smaller than nationally. EU has decided to support this type of transport and draft a strategy aimed at simplifying the legislation on customs control in member states, as well as the standardisation of the technical bureaucratic procedures of single wagon load transport”.
“To operate at maximum efficiency, trains need to carry as much freight as possible, within the technical capability of the track and traction. Generally, the longer the trains, the better. There are two main types of wagon to carry non-bulk goods, intermodal and wagonload. They differ in the means of loading and unloading; intermodal needs lifting equipment such as cranes, whereas wagons are loaded and unloaded often with fork lift trucks, and from platforms level with the floor of the wagon”, explaines Lord Tony Berkeley, President Rail Freight Group. Containers are transported between terminal and origin and destination by truck, whereas historically wagons were shunted into smaller trains for haulage to the ultimate destination by rail. This often involved a main line locomotive being used to haul just one or two wagons many km, making it often uneconomic. One solution of course is to store material in wagons at the shunting yards until there is enough to justify a train, but that reduces the output of the wagon, said Lord Tony Berkeley.“
In Western Europe, operators have joined their efforts to sustain single wagon load. Therefore, on February 18, 2010, 7 rail freight transport operators signed a new alliance in Zurich strengthening the efforts made for improving single wagon load services. The founding members of the Xrail alliance are CD Cargo (Czech republic), CFL Cargo (Luxembourg), DB Schenker Rail (Germany), Green Cargo (Sweden), Rail Cargo Austria (Austria), SBB Cargo (Switzerland) and SNCB Logistics (Belgium).”However, the greatest different between these two modes is that intermodal is now open to competition in many member states, and the efficiencies of the private sector operators has contributed to the growth in intermodal traffic across Europe, only held back by operating, safety or access restrictions imposed to protect the monopolistic instincts of the incumbent operators.
“Sadly, there is no competition for wagonload traffic, since the incumbents, who generally own the shunting yards and operate many of the terminals, will not allow other operators to compete for this traffic. I hope that the present infraction proceedings against 13 member states, plus the Recast of the First Railway Package, will finally open the railway system to full competition, and bring improvements to efficiency and performance for which it has already demonstrated success” said Lord Tony Berkeley.

by Elena Ilie

Share on: