More transportation of goods by rail

The BTU project Smart Cargo Station uses the benefits of passenger transport for goods transport

Road transport today is dominated by lorries the consequence of which is overloaded and damaged roads, a high risk of accident, badly paid work, polluted air and a high consumption of fossil fuels. European politics are demanding that the once dominant mode of transport, the railway, be used as an alternative. But how are the goods supposed to get onto the rails? The Smart Cargo Station (SCS) provides the answer.

Despite a favourable primary energy balance, rail can only arduously claim its market share of goods transport in Germany of 17 per cent per tonne kilometre. Many potential customers can no longer be accessed via rail – the laying of an own, private rail connection for all commercial or industrial enterprises is usually unprofitable. As a result, most transport occurs via roads with disadvantages for the environment and society. An alternative to long distance transport with HGV is combined transport (CT), which involves the transportation of goods in standardised (swap) bodies via road and rail as well as on water. These bodies are available in large numbers for almost all kinds of goods. The changeover of the transport modes currently occurs in terminals and is associated with loss of time and additional costs. In addition, there are only few terminals and the journeys to get to these are often too long.

Combined transport is only really economically viable with greater cargo loads and for longer journeys - something that only rarely applies to goods customers in smaller and mid-sized enterprises. Many regions along the European goods transport corridors have also been left behind by combined transport because trains don’t stop for loading or unloading away from the terminals. Up until now there hasn’t been a concept for getting the goods to the trains quickly, securely and conveniently and on the shortest way possible.

Transport stops near residential areas enable passengers to quickly enter, exit or change from one mode of transport into the next but there isn’t an equivalent for goods transport. This is where the Smart Cargo Station comes in. The core of the project is formed by an innovative solution that totally forgoes time consuming shunting and train composition processes. Instead, the cargo handling occurs during a short stop at a main platform. Hereby cargo movers – specially adapted trucks – are used for the handling of the containers instead of cranes and these also enable them to be moved horizontally. In the Smart Cargo Station, goods trains only have short stops for the changing over of the containers before they continue their journey. The construction of additional loading platforms for this isn’t required, which saves time and money. Shorter distances to the customer are covered by road transport. The Smart Cargo Station also complements the existing railway network with a further new component in the decentral location. Extendible modules can be integrated into existing railway facilities and do not require any expensive intervention in the signal box technology. Fallow areas, which have arisen due to the demolition of railway tracks, can be used for this.

More goods on the railways: this is not only a political slogan but a scientific and technical research goal at the BTU Cottbus–Senftenberg funded by the Karl-Vossloh-Stiftung. The project was presented at the InnoTrans 2018 in Berlin in September.