Longer and heavier trucks may seriously impact rail markets, new study warns

Posted: 10 November 2011 | | No comments yet

Longer and Heavier lorries would undermine the objectives of the European Commission’s 2011 Transport White Paper…

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The introduction of Longer and Heavier lorries (LHVs) up to 25.25m long across Europe would undermine the objectives of the European Commission’s 2011 Transport White Paper, according to a new study carried out by K+P Transport Consultants (Freiburg) and the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research (ISI) (Karlsruhe). The study also warns that the impact on rail freight would be sufficiently strong to lead to the complete or partial abandonment of some rail markets.

The study considered the impact that longer and heavier vehicles (also known as megatrucks or gigaliners) would have on rail freight in five separate trans-European corridors: Northern Germany to the Czech Republic; Belgium and Netherlands to Spain; Scandinavia to Germany (Ruhr area); Germany (Ruhr area) to Northern Italy; and South-East Germany to Hungary.

The effects on two particular types of rail freight were analysed: single wagonload rail freight (where small numbers of freight wagons from different customers are joined together to make a full train), and combined road-rail transport. In order to properly consider different possible reactions, three different types of LHV configuration were considered: 40/44 tonnes / 17.8m length; 44 tonnes / 25.25m length; and 60 tonnes / 25.25m length. The 44t/25.25m LHV, and not the 60t/25.25m LHV, would cause the highest modal shift to road due to its cost advantages the study says.

The study concludes that single wagonload markets would be affected worst due to its high share of fixed costs, with over 35% of rail freight shifted back to road in one of the corridors considered by the study. The intensity of the downward spiral in single wagonload markets, where decreasing transport volumes lead to higher costs per unit, could lead to their complete or partial breakdown in the medium to long term, the study warns. “It is highly probable that decreasing volumes would end up with a complete withdrawal of the service,” it says. “This context is obvious for single wagonload, as the experience in many European countries has proven.”

Furthermore, while not suffering losses on such a large scale as single wagonload freight, combined transport would certainly lose market share as well, the consultants warn – a consequence that should be carefully considered given the huge investment programmes already made to establish Combined Transport in Europe.

The overall effect on such changes would cause overall external costs from road and rail freight, including CO2 emissions, to rise, as the external costs of current standard HGVs are four times higher than in single wagonload and five times above Combined Transport. –This is clearly contrary to the aim of the Transport White Paper, which seeks to reduce CO2 from transport by 60% by 2050. The White Paper’s aim of achieving modal shift of 30% of medium and long-distance freight by 2030 from road to rail and inland waterways would also be heavily undermined.

CER Executive Director Johannes Ludewig said that the study underlined what CER has long been warning about the impact of megatrucks. “The Commission recognised in the Transport White Paper earlier this year that for freight, rail’s strength is on medium and long distance journeys, and it rightly concluded that as part of a strategy to reduce CO2 emissions we should aim to encourage freight off the roads. However, as this study shows, despite the claims of their supporters, allowing the widespread use of megatrucks would have the opposite effect. Far from benefitting the environment, they would make many rail freight markets completely unviable and merely increase emissions of CO2.”

The study, commissioned by CER, is available at An executive summary in German is also available online.