Businesses Turn to Road Freight as European Rail Network Reaches Capacity

Rail Network is Overloaded, Congested and Unreliable

European transport experts have issued a damning assessment of the current rail network, while shippers are voting with their feet and turning to the roads.

Overloaded, congested and increasingly unreliable. That was the assessment of Europe’s rail network according to Pauline Bastidon, policy manager for rail and transport at the European Shippers’ Council.

She said that the network is already stretched to breaking point, particularly along key trade routes like the Rhine Valley, and that any plans to shift existing road volumes onto the rails will be doomed to fail.

In fact, the reality is that the opposite is happening. Shippers cannot afford to take chances with delays and are increasingly turning their back on the rail network and turning to road freight companies to be confident that their cargoes arrive at destination on time, every time.

Trouble in the Rhine

The recent debacle along the Rhine Alpine rail route was cited by Bastidon as a case in point. In mid August, work on the Rastaat Tunnel caused the track to subside by around 50cm along the route from Karlsruhe to Basel. This major transport artery is used by over 100 trains every day, but was rendered completely unusable.

The rail companies tripped over each other searching for alternative routes, but with other German rail operators also taking the opportunity of the “August lull” to carry out maintenance work, there was a distinct lack of options.

The result? Shippers faced weeks of delays, with containers stuck on wagons in remote locations. Worse, there was very little information on exactly where a shipment was located and if or when it would eventually reach its destination.

Road options

The above is just one example of the problems faced with rail freight in central Europe, but it gives a good indication of why shippers are increasingly turning to road freight instead.

Sending cargo by truck is so much more flexible. If there is a delay with the ferries, there is the possibility of the channel tunnel and vice versa. Also, shippers are able to take advantage of groupage services to popular destinations, meaning that sending by road is both quick and cost effective.

The major road hauliers use cutting edge tracking and security technology, so even if there is some sort of delay, customers have up to the minute information on exactly where their goods are located and when they will be delivered. It really is a different world in comparison to the rail option.

Inadequate rail infrastructure

The European Commission is keen to promote increased use of the rail network, and introduced the Single European Railway Area in an attempt to cut costs and improve efficiencies through a common set of rules and regulations.
Yet industry experts believe that this is putting the cart before the horse, and while the European network continues to struggle with massive structural inadequacies it will continue to lose business hand over fist to the better organised road operators.

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