High-speed freight train Italy hits the track on 7 November

Image: Mercitalia Fast

On 7 November the first high-speed railway service in Italy will become operative. Mercitalia Fast will connect the terminal of Maddaloni-Marcianise in Caserta, the natural logistic gateway to Southern Italy, with the Bologna Interport, one of the most important logistics hubs in Northern Italy from Monday to Friday in three hours and thirty minutes.

According to Mercitalia , the the freight arm of Italian State Railways (FS) and operator of the new service, Mercitalia Fast is the world’s first high-speed rail transport service for goods. Traditionally, high-speed railway is dedicated to passenger services. However, express delivery of goods is increasingly in demand with the current e-commerce boom, the company argued.

Italia as a frontrunner

The goods will travel on board a high-speed train at an average speed of 180 kmph. The ETR 500 train has a load capacity equivalent to 18 tractor-trailers. “The use of rolling containers will make loading and unloading operations quick, efficient and safe”, Mercitalia said. In the future, the company plans to extend Mercitalia Fast services to other terminals located in the main Italian cities serviced by the high-speed network, such as Turin, Novara, Milan, Brescia, Verona, Padua, Rome and Bari.

Although Mercitalia offers the first high-speed freight service in Italy, it is followed by another service planned to be launched in the same country. In just a year from now, the Italian company Interporto Servizi Cargo (ISC) will offer a high-speed rail freight service between Florence and Bologna. Mercitalia and ISC will use the same high-speed railway line, but at different time slots.

High-speed rail freight

Until now, high-speed lines are not generally utilised for freight operations. According to Mathieu Strale, who wrote an essay about high-speed rail freight in 2016, high-speed tracks are designed for passenger services, not for heavy freight heavy trains. He also argued that high-speed trains (HST) are generally not designed for carrying goods, while high-speed lines usually link major city centres, which are typically not the destinations for freight activities.

This is not to say that it has not been tried and tested. From 1984 till 2015 the French railway company SNCF ran the high-speed postal service La Poste. As modified passenger train sets, the train was categorised as a freight train running on the high-speed network at a speed of 270 kmph. Due to a reduced demand of postal services the line was closed.

Future projects

Today, several other projects are in the pipeline to develop express delivery of goods. In Austria, a high-speed line dedicated to freight operations is currently under construction. The Koralm Railway will connect Klagenfurt and Graz in an hour, with a possible speed of 250 kmph. It is expected to be completed in 2023.

In Sweden the North Bothnia Line is under construction, planned for high-speed freight and passenger services between Umeå and Luleå in northern Sweden. Once completed, freight trains will be able to travel at speeds of 250 kmph. Further east, Rail Baltica will allow for high-speed travel of freight trains. This new railway network connecting Tallinn in Estonia to Kaunas in Lithuania aims for 120 kmph speed for freight traffic

Author: Majorie van Leijen

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

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