market trends

French road-rail traffic up 18% in Q1 2024, but only because 2023 was bad

Image: LinkedIn. Groupement national des Transports Combinés - GNTC

French road-rail volumes were up 18 per cent in the first quarter of 2024. Still, they benefitted from a favourable comparison with the same period last year, marked by several negative factors affecting the market, according to the combined transport association Groupement National des Transports Combinés (GNTC).

In 2023, road-rail volumes, expressed in tonne/kilometres, were down 15 per cent from the previous year. “2023 was a significantly bad year due to strikes at the start of the year, a complicated economic situation and rising energy prices, so we are effectively making up for lost volumes, but we are still below the levels of 2022,” the GNTC’s director Aurélien Barbé, told

He said there had been growth in volumes between 2019 and 2022 “due to the attractiveness of the mode. Shippers are convinced that flows need to be decarbonised and are turning to modal shift whenever possible. So this growth reflects our development potential.” Meanwhile, strong political and social support for combined transport was expressed at a recent web conference
organised by the GNTC.

‘Public authorities are committed’

Jean-Marc Zulesi, MP for the Bouches-du-Rhône département and Chairman of the French National Assembly’s Committee on Land-Use Planning and Sustainable Development, pointed out that transport accounts for more than 30 per cent of France’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and that combined transport is particularly efficient in this respect, preventing the emission of 1.3 million tonnes of GHG emissions every year.

He reiterated the public authorities’ commitment to a national strategy of doubling the modal share of rail freight, “the success of which will depend on our ability to avoid pitting the different modes of transport against each other.”
Appropriate infrastructure, therefore, needs to be developed to facilitate the transition from one mode to another, Zulesi added, highlighting as an example the new ‘combi’ terminal that was recently commissioned in Miramas, on the outskirts of Marseille, Terminal Ouest Provence (TOP).

What is the industry saying?

At the web conference’s round table on new solutions and new developments in combined transport, Jean-Claude Brunier, chairman of the Open Modal group behind the TOP, commented on its development: “We wanted a new-generation terminal that was entirely carbon-free, equipped with modern operating tools and extensively automated.” Poised to be fully operational shortly, it will be able to offer a total processing capacity of 100,000 ITUs per year.

The shippers’ viewpoint on the decarbonisation of transport was also discussed at the GNTC’s web conference with Chloé Guedj, Corporate Social Responsibility manager at PepsiCo France, a branch of the US drinks and food products giant. Guedj highlighted that modal shift was high on the company’s agenda.
She explained that PepsiCo France had been one of the first shippers to sign up to an initiative in 2019 aimed at cutting GHG emissions and also reducing ‘carbon intensity’, expressed in term of each pallet transported.

The company had decided to locate its depots near intermodal terminals, such as the one situated six kilometres from Dourges in northern France. However, Guedj made no secret of the fact that rail freight service levels remain lower than those of road transport and that there is room for improvement, while journey times can be longer.
“That said, some customers are changing and accepting slightly longer delivery times, of the order of one or two days, in exchange for using road-rail and the CSR benefits it brings them.”

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Author: Stuart Todd

Stuart Todd is a correspondent and frequent contributor for

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