Taking Europe’s air cargo to the rails

Call it what you will – an innovative solution, a creative opportunity, or maybe just wishful thinking – but a unique development is percolating in Europe that could have far reaching impact on the transportation industry there. In a seemingly odd marriage, trains and planes are set to begin a courtship at select European airports. Donald Urquhart has the story.

Driven by ever-increasing road congestion, airport slot limitations, night bans, high fuel prices and various environmental issues, the idea is to divert express and freight shipments from both road haulage and short feeder-flights to high-speed rail.

The idea is to combine aircraft services with high speed rail in Europe, “to create a new intermodality,” says UPS Transport OHG managing director, Christian Messerschmidt. “We need innovative products to meet the 40-50 per cent growth in European freight movement predicted by 2025,” he said speaking earlier this year in Munich at the Air Cargo Europe event.

The key to the whole concept is a rethinking of traditional rail freight, tapping the technology already widely in use for high speed passenger transport and adapting it to air cargo, premised around the express nature of air cargo.

But proponents of the concept admit that it is not going to be easy to get rolling, despite its cost and inherently environmentally-friendly benefits, pointing to financial and political hurdles, not to mention the serious need to attract cargo volumes, including non-air cargo.

Driven largely by the integrators, two key projects have been underway for a number of years already, including the Euro-Carex (an acronym for Cargo Rail Express) project based out of Paris’ Roissy/Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport and the ACE (Air Cargo Express) project which initially aims to link up Leipzig/ Halle with Frankfurt.