IN an attempt to reduce the amount of truck traffic and freight tonnage on roads linking northern and southern Europe, French and Swiss authorities are promoting ferroutage — the transport of trucks or their containers on trains.
They already are using a railway shuttle of this type through the Channel Tunnel joining France and England. Now — with a complete ban in France on hazardous goods and a maximum trailer size of 13.3 ft high by 8.4 ft wide and 52.3 ft long, which appears to rule out modern reefer trailers — the challenge over the next few decades is to construct or enlarge rail tunnels that go through the Alps and Pyrenees.
In the meantime, LOHR, a family-run, freight-equipment company in eastern France, has invented revolutionary flatbed train cars called Modalohr, which have floors that are just seven inches above the ground, allowing them to pass through low-roof tunnels. At their ends, they have standard-size wheels and axles that allow them to travel as quickly as any other train car.
The difference in height between the standard bogies and the intervening floor does not allow trucks to join or leave by the front or rear of the train, so LOHR has provided a pivot on each wagon around which the floor can rotate. For loading and unloading a truck, the floor is positioned perpendicular to the track, and a retractable ramp helps the truck driver to maneuver.
“This principle allows all the heavy-goods vehicles to be loaded or unloaded at the same time,” project manager Sebastian Lange says. “When all the trucks are in position to advance next to the wagon that has been allocated to them, loading takes place in less than an hour, instead of three hours for a usual shuttle. The same for unloading.”
These wagons also could be used for other rail shuttles in other parts of Europe and the world. They are particularly useful in mountainous areas, valleys, and urban areas where road traffic is saturated and requires the transfer of a portion of the goods and trucks by rail.
Since most French factories and warehouses do not have railway sidings, trucks remain indispensable for the collection and delivery of goods. Authorities therefore are determined to improve combined road/rail transport, using the principle in which trucks load containers at a factory and bring them to a multimodal transfer yard, where they are loaded onto a train that takes them to their final destination.
“The containers therefore travel for the longest part of their journey by rail, mostly at night,” says Jean-Claude Brunier, who heads the TAB (Transport Auto Brunier) road transport company.
TAB, in collaboration with the Educational Institute for Transport and Logistics (IPTL) also is using satellite tracking to facilitate dialogue between truck drivers and operators of multimodal logistics platforms and to compensate for road-traffic delays. Using receivers installed on trucks and to real-time traffic maps, managers of multimodal platforms can estimate possible delays and ask drivers to change their route or even redirect them to another platform.
“A simulation enabled us to estimate that between 380 and 520 hours could be saved each month in this way for a fleet of 50 trucks,” IPTL head of research Bernard Borie says.