Rail or road? Multimodality is taking the lead on emissions reduction

written by Michael Pooley, 22nd Luglio 2020, in CEO Insights

In the past two years alone, millions of protesters have taken to the streets, warning that climate change has become a climate crisis. People around the globe are increasingly passionate about reducing carbon emissions. Businesses, including those of us in the fresh supply chain, are searching for ways to lower our use of fossil fuel.

In Europe, long-distance hauls are increasing

Yet for reasons including flexibility, price, service frequency and available networks, road transport still reigns. According to Eurostat, roughly three-quarters (76%) of freight shipments were moved via road in 2017. In recent decades, the share of rail freight has declined in relation to road freight, while instances of long-distance overland road hauls of over 1,000 kilometers have risen significantly.

Rail is a greener alternative

What can reverse the trend? It is true that many lower-volume shipments need to be distributed via road to their destinations, but I’m surely not the only one who believes that sending long-distance hauls via road is not a sustainable model. Instead, railways offer a greener alternative to long-haul road transport, as trains produce less than one-quarter of the CO2 emissions per ton-kilometer of goods moved, according to the European Environment Agency.

Transporting goods over long distances by rail also serves to ease the pressure on congested roads. It addresses the shortage of drivers and restrictions to their driving hours as well. This is why it makes sense to reduce traffic by consolidating individual loads into larger shipments. To maintain flexibility, multimodal transport combines road and rail on the same journey.

Trucks drive to a central point, where their trailers, generally standard shipping containers, are loaded onto railways. When trains arrive at their primary destination, the shipping containers are then distributed via road to customers. This combination offers the best of both worlds: flexibility and lower emissions.

Improving logistics efficiency

On the business front, combining road and rail makes sense economically, too. Making better use of transport modes and improving the efficiency of freight logistics was the focus of the European Commission’s recent 2018 Year of Multimodality. Its aim was and is to make the whole sector more environmentally friendly, safer, and cost-efficient.

"Multimodality will help bring about a truly sustainable and integrated transport system," said Matthew Baldwin, deputy director general, DG MOVE in his keynote at the launch event in Brussels. "Our track network is a huge asset, built painstakingly mostly by previous generations and often painfully under-utilized." Containerization has transformed international freight logistics, Baldwin added, saying that multimodality is the future of transport.

Multimodal transport reduces emissions

You may be wondering why I am recalling these 2018 events. It was also roughly two years ago that IFCO began applying multimodal services concepts, for instance by using rail to send our empty Reusable Plastic Containers (RPCs) on the long-haul route over 1,000 kilometers between Germany and Spain. Each rail journey takes roughly 50 trucks off the roads. This saves one ton of CO2 per RPC shipment sent via train.

Reducing carbon emissions is increasingly urgent for individuals and businesses alike. IFCO is turning to multimodal transport where possible to improve sustainability along with supply chain efficiency. We intend to keep reducing long-haul shipment by road. Our goal this year is to extend this to other routes – and prevent at least twice as much CO2 from entering the atmosphere.

Quantificate i vantaggi

Quantificate i risparmi conseguiti sul fronte ambientale grazie all’impiego dei contenitori riutilizzabili in plastica (RPC) IFCO nell’ambito della catena di fornitura dei prodotti freschi utilizzando il nostro stimatore della riduzione dell’impatto ambientale.

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