French supermarket chain Monoprix has started delivering consumer goods to 27 Parisian supermarkets by rail. Laurent Charlier reports

MINISTER of Transport Dominique Bussereau was among the guests present at the Halle Gabriel Lamé, a warehouse owned by SNCF close to Bercy station in the 12th arrondissement of Paris, to witness the official start on November 28 of a project led by retailer Monoprix to deliver consumer goods into the heart of the French capital by rail.

The first Monoprix train ran on November 25 following a series of test runs over the previous two months. Initially, one train per day, formed of six wagons, is running to Bercy from Monoprix's warehouses at Combs-la-Ville and Lieusaint, both in the département of Seine-et-Marne on the edge of the Paris conurbation. At present the traffic consists of homewares and personal care goods from Combs-la-Ville and soft drinks from Lieusaint; it is expected to grow to allow a daily service of 22 wagons in the first half of 2008.

At Bercy, the train is unloaded and its cargo is transferred to a fleet of 14 vans powered by natural gas, which deliver to an initial total of 27 Monoprix stores in central Paris, although the retailer expects 60 shops to be served by March. Trains are operated by Fret SNCF, although it has subcontracted VFLI to undertake shunting and unloading at Bercy. Onward road transport is provided by Geodis.

Monoprix's logistics arm Samada will continue to use some direct road services from the Seine-et-Marne warehouses, but the retailer has made it clear that increasing congestion in the suburbs and centre of the city makes the introduction of an additional rail-borne stage in the supply chain an increasingly viable option. Monoprix also sees the project as an integral part of its sustainability programme.

However, Bussereau reminded guests that the successful launch of the Monoprix initiative was dependent upon the availability of a suitable terminal close enough to the centre of the city. While progress has been made in recent years to secure potential freight terminal sites in urban areas, he urged local authorities to 'have the courage to protect facilities that could be used for rail freight use, even if they see no current traffic'.

Seven other sites in the Paris region are being considered for potential urban freight terminals, while other cities afflicted by severe traffic congestion, including Lyon, Bordeaux and Nice, are actively looking to replicate the Parisian example. City terminals require only enough room to allow direct transhipment from rail wagon to road vehicle - any more complicated shunting, marshalling or repackaging of goods must be done further up the supply chain at out-of-town warehouses, according to Fret SNCF.

Besides the consumer goods sector, the operator envisages attracting customers in the construction and automotive industries. A terminal to handle trainload aggregates and construction traffic is to be built at Batignolles by 2012, whilst a facility to handle new car deliveries is being studied at La Chapelle to help mitigate the impact of more stringent restrictions on high-capacity car-transporting lorries using the streets of Paris which come into effect from 2009.