Bigger trains and more capacities on the Rhine-Alpine route for modal shift

Ceneri Base Tunnel

Improving rail freight traffic conditions through the Rhine-Alpine corridor is critical in succeeding the modal shift in Europe. Using longer, higher and heavier freight trains on the route is one way to do it. Additionally, increasing capacities is also vital. For this to happen, the corridor needs more tracks and electrification. Hupac believes that these should be the priorities when discussing modal shift objectives.

The Rhine-Alpine corridor should gain more attention because it is the most heavily used freight route in Europe. For Hupac, the modal shift could delay without implementing solutions there. These solutions include reaching the full transport potential of the Gotthard and Ceneri Base Tunnels. Moreover, they require a change of perspective. The countries that are part of the Rhine-Alpine corridor should start coordinating in their actions and not act independently. Rail freight companies should also do the same. In this way, they will create an integrated network with good communication and better conditions.

Gotthard and Ceneri Tunnels with longer trains

The two tunnels were built to facilitate rail freight traffic from Italy to Switzerland. Furthermore, they are substantially improving traffic between hubs on the North-South axis. Positioned in the heart of the Alps, they were long-awaited to allow more trains to travel between Switzerland-Italy and reduce road congestion. Their construction parameters provide for the use of bigger trains than usual. Specifically, the tunnels can handle trains up to 740 metres long, 4 metres high, and 2,000 tonnes heavy.

However, the tunnels do not reach their full transport potential. To run this kind of trains through them, corresponding infrastructure and legislation for the whole Rhine-Alpine route is a must. Unfortunately, the rail infrastructure network still has many gaps, not allowing the realisation of such a project. Additionally, countries such as Germany or the Netherlands are not fully allowing the use of 740 metre-long trains, making it impossible to create a continuous and flawless longer-train network.

Consequently, upgrading the infrastructure and allowing longer trains in the Rhine-Alpine route would prove beneficial in multiple ways. First of all, longer trains mean fewer trains on tracks. In this way, network operators could manage infrastructure easier. Secondly, they mean more payload per train for combined transport operators. Overall, longer trains would also mean fewer trucks on roads since they will carry more cargo at once.

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The Rhine-Alpine corridor.

Shared thinking and planning

As Hupac puts it explicitly, “the various stakeholders need to overcome national thinking even more consistently and adopt a corridor perspective focusing on freight transport requirements”. By transport requirements, the intermodal company means three specific things: secured freight transport capacities through international network utilisation, integrated operational management on the entire corridor, and priority for freight traffic over long distances in the event of operational disruptions.

Nevertheless, the most critical step in succeeding the modal shift is shared planning for capacity increases. Among the priorities, for instance, is the capacity increase south of Mannheim with a continuous double track and electrification on the Wörth-Lauterbourg-Strasbourg line. Hupac says that fulfilling this objective by 2030 would be the ideal scenario. In practice, it would mean more capacities on Rhine’s left bank and a good alternative to other frequently congested routes. After all, waiting for the four-track expansion on Rhine’s right bank in 2040 could prove very late in terms of reaching modal shift objectives.

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Author: Nikos Papatolios

Nikos Papatolios is editor of, the online magazine for rail freight professionals.

1 comment op “Bigger trains and more capacities on the Rhine-Alpine route for modal shift”


“Specifically, the tunnels can handle trains up to 740 metres long, 4 metres high, and 2,000 tonnes heavy.”

The tunnels can handle lorry trailers 4 meters high loaded on freight cars. That must be about 4,6 meters in total height.

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