FFWD Fresh Rail wants to prove that shipping fresh products is easy

Spain-UK train

FFWD Fresh Rail is a new fresh produce rail operator with several projects underway. The company’s current goals focus on expanding its services in East and South-East Europe. Simultaneously, it has big plans for the port of Rotterdam that will transform into a hub for services across Europe. The dedicated train service already connects  Spain with Northern Europe and Scandinavia in collaboration with Transfesa Logistics. With the FFWD door-to-door solution, it wants to prove that using rail to ship fresh goods is easy. 

What does it take to transport fresh produce across Europe by rail? FFDW knows that setting up a dedicated train is not the easiest thing. Coordinating the whole supply chain door-to-door and controlling the shipments is one challenge. Moreover, convincing that rail is capable of delivering these objectives is the biggest hurdle. “You need to think like a trucker rather than a rail company”, says Fred Lessing, Director Intermodal Solutions at FFWD Fresh Rail. However, with strong partnerships, cooperation and a deep understanding of customer needs, rail can bring great results.

How it all started

For Lessing (working at Euro Pool System at that time), it all started with the idea of a fresh train between Valencia and Rotterdam. Euro Pool System, a leading logistics provider of reusable packaging, Bakker Barendrecht / Albert Hein, the biggest supermarket chain in the Netherlands, and Royal FloraHolland, a cooperative of growers, started the project called later CoolRail to find an alternative to road transport. They considered short-sea and rail solutions. The short-sea option was eliminated quickly due to time constraints while there were no rail connections between Valencia and the Netherlands to help set up the service.

Not much later, the CoolRail project started taking flesh and bones. The main prerequisites for the train were reasonable transit times and competitive pricing. The company conducted external research, and findings showed that a dedicated train service could save up to 90 per cent of CO2 emissions. Consequently, the project started looking more and more realisable.

After a trial of five months that proved the concept in 2016,  Euro Pool System decided to run a company train. The starting point was in May 2019, and in May 2020, the project shifted to CoolRail Powered by Transfesa. For Fred Lessing, who moved to FFWD Fresh Rail this year, the next step is to create a fresh rail network connecting all of Europe.

Making Rotterdam a hub

In cooperation with Transfesa Logistics, FFWD connects  Valencia in Spain with Cologne in Germany several times per week. Scandinavian countries are also regular destinations. Specifically, from Cologne, the train departs to Denmark. After two stops in Denmark, it goes to Malmo in Sweden, and From Malmo, it travels to Oslo. In time, they will try to connect with Poland and the Czech Republic. There are already existing connections towards this direction, but if they are not efficient, FFWD will create new ones.

For the Scandinavian market, there is a need for dedicated trains. This is why FFWD has big plans for the Port of Rotterdam. It aims to shape it into a European distribution hub and create a corridor towards the Scandinavian countries. “Consolidating fresh corridors from Spain, Holland and overseas in Rotterdam CoolPort, we will be able to organize trains to Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and countries in the east of Europe”, says Lessing. For this purpose, Rotterdam needs to connect by rail to all countries, accompanied by truck services necessary for the last-mile distribution. “With these dedicated connections, we will improve the lead times and create a tailored service“, he adds.

‘Think like a trucker’ and grow

Lessing says that FFWD’s purpose is not to create new trains but new connections. “If the connection is not good enough, we create it, but if it is already there and efficient, we make the most out of it”, he adds. After all, the company’s primary goal is to expand its services and network all over Europe. To make this happen, a rail company needs to be “reliable, with fast transit times and good prices”. On top of that, especially when transporting fresh products, one cannot afford insufficient control over the whole supply chain. In CoolRail’s case, Thermoking is responsible for 24/7 monitoring of the containers and intervening whenever necessary.

Additionally, as Lessing comments, you can’t think like a rail forwarder in such a service. “You work as a trucker: you have to think door-to-door, cover the whole supply chain and follow the status of the container temperatures. You need to be proactive and in touch with the customers. You need to follow up and come up with solutions constantly. Technical knowledge and good coordination are also crucial”.

Finally, when it comes to usual problems faced by rail services (congestion, mechanical issues), Lessing is clear. “You cannot exclude trucks from the supply chain”, he underlines. Trucks are substantial for last-mile services but also to absorb fluctuations and deliver contingency plans. If a train faces an impactful problem, trucks will intervene and take over the remaining distance. “When transporting fresh food, rail is the most environmentally friendly solution, but you gave to combine it with other modalities to make it sustainable”, concludes Lessing.

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Author: Nikos Papatolios

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

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