Large objects on the train? Yes, we can!

Next year, it is going to be more difficult to transport project cargo over the road in Germany. A chance for rail, says DB Cargo, which knows that large and heavy objects can also be loaded on a train. “Project cargo is a niche market, but a growing one”, said Maarten de Ridder, sales director at the German rail operator.

De Ridder was one of the speakers at the Project Cargo Summit, which was held from 21-23 September in the Promedia Studios, Rotterdam. He represented rail transport, among the many other ways of transporting the exceptional cargo type. But from next year onwards, project cargo is banned from the German roads during the day, which is good news for rail. “We have had several people asking us: what can you do for us?” said the Ridder after the summit.

Project cargo, what is it?

Project cargo is all cargo that cannot be transported in a container. It is often large and heavy, and although there are regular consignments too, it is often project-based cargo. This means that the shipments are part of a larger project, which is time sensitive and planned in advance.

Ocean and inland shipping are the most consumed transport modes, as these are the modalities with least limitations. On the contrary, rail has to deal with track width, tunnels and stations. “You have to be careful not to hit any stations or track posts”, said de Ridder. Although long objects are less of a problem, the width is usually restricted at 3.20 metres, and the height at around 4.5 metres.

Advantage of rail

“This is indeed quite a restriction”, said Jeroen de Ryck from Ahlers, a company with a multimodal approach towards project cargo. “Project cargo is often large. But, the rails can handle heavy objects fairly well. There are a lot of opportunities for heavy cargo that is not that big. This can be loaded on a train, rather than a truck.”

“Rail freight is much quicker than inland shipping”, adds de Ridder. “Moreover, it is not always easy to reach the water, while railways are often adjacent to the plant. Our network is large, we can reach almost every corner of Europe. Nevertheless, it is mostly a matter of multimodality. It is not a question of ‘either, or’, you will often use several transport modes.”

Beyond the standard

On the train, DB Cargo once transported an object that was 250 tonnes and 30 metres long. It was some kind of cylinder. That would be the largest cargo it has moved, he narrates. “There are a lot of things possible. We can always remove track posts, if this is needed. Sometimes, you need to make sure that there is no traffic from the opposite direction. This can be arranged, it only involves good planning.”

According to de Ryck, project cargo is characterised by these non-standard parameters. “No shipment is the same, especially with project cargo. Therefore, it is important to think of tailor-made solutions. These are often multimodal. For example, we do not prefer the sea route from Asia to Russia at the moment, due to the market situation. We ship to the port of Vladivostok, from where we load cargo on the train to Moscow.”

Windmills on the train

What other challenges does the rail freight operator face? Equipment and regulations, answers de Ridder. “Especially in Europe, regulation is age-old, and poses a lot of hurdles in transporting any cargo. In order to ship special cargo, you need to have special permits.”

And then there are the country-specific challenges. For example, in the UK the railway bridges are very narrow, making the height limitations even more. The south of Italy is also a place hard to reach, with any kind of cargo, explains de Ridder. On the contrary, in Canada they can do more. “Windmills are moved on special trains in Canada. This is something we cannot do in Europe. These objects are way too large.”

RailFreight Live

Maarten de Ridder was a guest in RailFreight Live last week, to talk about project cargo on the train. You can watch the interview here, or watch the entire broadcast below.

Author: Majorie van Leijen

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

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