SMART-RAIL at Rail Freight Platform Workshop, January 2016

January 25th 2016 saw the hosting of a Rail Freight Platform Workshop organised by Transport & Environment (T&E) . The topic of this workshop was “The Role of Single Wagon Loads in the Future of Transportation of Freight by Rail”.

The following questions were posed as discussion points:
1. What are the major roadblocks to providing single wagon load services?
2. How do we establish the routes where it can be economically viable to operate single wagon load services?
3. What role can new technologies play in making this service more profitable?

The roundtable was attended by 20 participants with representatives from Shift2Rail, CLECAT, BDI, CER, UIP, EIM, ERFA, The European Parliament, The European Commission, and representatives from various shippers, Railway Undertakings and research institutes.

As the leader of WP 6 relating to single wagon load, Railistics were invited on behalf of Smart-Rail to moderate the discussion.

In relation to the three discussion points, three challenges were put forward by the moderator for discussion, namely:

• Co-ordination and co-operation (Flexible Systems)
A typical international journey of a single wagon requires the co-operation of two or more railway undertakings; the same is often true for domestic transport. There is only a theoretical opportunity for shippers to create their specific best case for a specific transport among different railway undertakings. This is due to a lack of interfaces, joint offers, flexible products, or sometimes the willingness to co-operate. A more open approach to balance co-operation and competition among railway undertakings would increase the total market for single wagon freight to the benefit of the sector.
Current methods lead to an even more resource-oriented planning of single wagon operations which increases the challenge to fund competitive solutions for specific single wagon transports.
Discussion point: Independent sales platforms may be able to combine competitive or neighbouring networks to find the most suitable solution for a specific transport.

• Neutral IT provider
An operational or commercial co-operation between railway undertakings requires the exchange of information which may be sensitive to competition issues. In Europe, unlike in the US, there are only very limited opportunities for a neutral handling of sensitive data while ensuring efficient operation and competitive rates for rail freight.
Discussion point: A neutral service provider who handles cross-company operational and commercial data and organises revenue distribution may be able to overcome confidentiality issues.

• The challenge of providing subsidies
There are many potential measures to provide financial support to the wagon load business to the same extent as road freight is directly or indirectly subsidised. These measures may include financial support for private and public sidings, roads in commercial areas, a reduction in access fees for feeder services or service facilities, up to direct support of operation costs to make up for competitive disadvantages due to issues like road fees which do not cover their costs or fulfil environmental needs.
At the moment, these potential measures are far from being implemented to create a fair competitive situation to road, or, they too often tend to benefit directly or indirectly specific stakeholders in the supply chain and thus limit benefits to a level below potential effects of this measure.
Discussion point: A comprehensive approach to organise support on EU-level, bring it to road level and ensure maximised system-wide benefits would increase volumes for single wagon freight independent from specific stakeholders’ benefits.

The day provided many further discussion points, new insight into other projects and further contacts that will potentially benefit Smart-Rail in the future.”