This system can load 50k non-cranable trailers in next 2-3 years

The non-cranable trailer market got a new possibility to opt for rail transport last week. In the GVT terminal of Tilburg, the Netherlands, a vertical loading technique was introduced. The first trains have already been loaded with trailers that are now on the way to Poland on rail.

Non-cranable trailers are traditionally transported by truck in Europe, due to a lack of facilities to lift these units on a train. In the last few years, however, the rail freight market has realised the untapped market of around a million existing non-cranable trailers. Several techniques have popped up to make a change.

Vertical lifting

“Ours is a vertical technique”, said Marc Hunziker last week in RailFreight Live. He works for wagon lease company VTG, which has just incorporated the concept in its fleet. The concept relies on a basket, which is placed on the ground in the terminal. The truck rides over the basket and drops the trailer once it is in the right position. The truck then leaves and the basket is lifted on the wagon, for which it is a perfect fit.

The advantage of this technique, Hunziker explains, is that there is no need for additional equipment. “European terminals rely on lifting mechanisms such as cranes. We have tried to bring something to the market that meets the terminal needs.”

Other techniques

The technique, developed by manufacturer Vega, is comparable to other vertical loading concepts such as that of NiKRASA. This has been employed by TX Logistik, and is successfully lifting non-cranable trailers on trains running between Hungary and Germany. The main difference is that this technique relies on a platform that remains at the terminal, and a platform that stays with the trailer on the train.

Other than the vertical techniques, there is horizontal loading. An example is the Lohr System, where the trailer is pushed onto a platform in a horizontal movement. This concept is in place in the CLIP terminal in Poznan, for transport on the connection between this Polish city and Bettembourg Dudelange in Luxembourg. During the RailFreight Summit, Marc Cahingt, CEO of Lohr Group, explains the advantage of this system.

Positioning

When it comes to the concept of Vega, there are certain challenges as well. It takes a bit of manoeuvring to place the trailer in the right position on the basket, Hunziker explains. “This takes practice, but we are also working on a laser system which will send a signal to the truck cabin when the truck is in the right position.”

The positioning of the truck on the basket is a task for the terminal management, a job for which they will be trained, the VTG representative continues. The wagon leasing company is in the process of developing such training, which will be provided to those who rent the equipment. “It is still too soon to speak of a price”, he said when asked if this is included in the rental.

Shifting 50,000 trailers

“What is most important, is that we contribute to the shift of non-cranable trailers to rail”, said Hunziker during the broadcast on Friday. “We want to complement the existing systems and add another concept to the market. Rail transportation is a sustainable transportation mode. If we can shift around 50,000 non-cranable trailers from road to rail in the next two to three years, we are very happy.”

The untapped market of a million non-cranable trailers is indeed promising, considering that they constitute the large majority of all semi-trailers on the market. With figures fluctuating quite a bit, most seem to agree that between 90-97 per cent of all semi-trailers on the market are non-cranable, and thus transported by road.

Why now?

So why has this not been done before? The technologies to make a shift happen have only been popping up in recent years and with great difficulty, not all succeed. A good example is the plan to build a new terminal in Bleiswijk, a city in the west of the Netherlands. Here, non-cranable trailers with fresh goods destined for Berlin and eventually all of Europe should have found access to the railway network. Until now however, those initiating the project have been unable to realise the concept, which was supposed to rely on horizontal loading.

It is a matter of financing, a source involved with the project explained earlier. According to Hunziker, this is the overall issue. Not every company has the financial means or the volumes to make the necessary investments to setup a whole new system, he explained. Financial support from the government or local authorities is not always easy to find. An exception is the new rail-road terminal at Calais in France. The European Union has granted a fund of just over 7 million Euros for the construction of this terminal, which will handle all trailers, including non-cranable ones.

Watch the interview

Do you want to watch the whole interview? Or do you want to see the report at the terminal of GVT in Tilburg? You can watch Friday’s broadcast of RailFreight Live here.

Author: Majorie van Leijen

Majorie van Leijen is editor of RailFreight.com, online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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