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Air freight takes to the rails

29 Sep 2008

EUROPE: The Eurocarex consortium has unveiled plans to order a fleet of dedicated trainsets in time to launch high speed freight trains in 2012. The prospect of high speed rail freight services linking some of Europe’s major airports is moving closer, after the partners in the Eurocarex project signed a Memorandum of Interest in Brussels on July 8.

Target date for the start of services is March 31 2012. An initial fleet of eight articulated nine-car trainsets, each able to carry around 100 tonnes of freight in airline containers, would link terminals at Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle, Lyon Saint-Exupéry, Lille Lesquin, Liège, Amsterdam, Köln-Bonn and London. A second phase would see Bordeaux, Marseille, Strasbourg and Frankfurt added to the list of destinations within five to seven years, which would require the fleet to be increased to around 20 sets. In the longer term Madrid, Milano, Barcelona and Berlin could be added, bringing the network to around 10 000 route-km.

Total price of the initial eight trains - which would be funded by the project partners - is put at €625m. Terminal construction is costed at €300m, but the partners envisage that about half of this would be raised from public-sector sources. Operating costs are put at €60m a year, of which €38m is budgeted for track access charges. A further €40m a year would be needed to pay off the capital investment.

A meeting held at Roissy in May brought the parties together to agree proposals, leading to the estab­lish­ment of Eurocarex. Based in Brussels, the organisation will be headed by Yanick Paternotte, who is President of the Val d’Oise Economic Expansion Committee. The business plan envisages a 62% average load factor. During the first phase this would see around 270 000 airline pallets carried by rail each year at a price of €370 to €400 per pallet per trip.

Summing inward and outward demand from the hub at Charles-de-Gaulle, Eurocarex has identified flows of 889 loads per day, based on a 3 200 x 2 400 x 2 400 mm container (Table I). This would be a mix of Express (parcels) and Cargo (air freight).

The project has gained considerable momentum from the recent escalation in the price of oil. Founder members are Air France KLM Cargo, La Poste, FedEx and three organisations with business interests at or near Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle airport - Roissy Développement, the Val d’Oise Economic Development Agency and the town of Goussainville.

More recent members include four organisations with plans for terminals in Lyon, Liège, London and Amsterdam. In London a terminal is envisaged to the east of the city; this part of the project is being co-ordinated by Eurotunnel. Associate members include eight French chambers of commerce, RFF and 12 commercial businesses such as TNT Express, Prologis, Lasalle Investment Manager, Unibail and Aéroports de Paris. DHL and UPS are expected to join shortly.

Alstom was asked to develop outline proposals for the trainsets, examining three different vehicle designs (Fig 1). Keeping the essential TGV concept of articulated cars, the train would have steel-bodied trailers to a large-profile design with a well between the bogies able to hold four AMJ containers; these could be 2·5 m high, or 3 m if they have tapered top corners, with a maximum load of 4 tonnes each. Two smaller AKE or VRAC containers carrying 1 tonne apiece could also be accommodated over the bogies.

The trailers would have a floor height 800 mm above rail, with doors 3 580 mm wide and 2 640 mm high - a 3 m high door option is being reviewed. Subject to structural strength, a similar vehicle with 6 m wide doors could accommodate two IATA 20 ft containers in the well; again the height could be 2·5 m or 3 m.

An alternative high-floor vehicle could carry five AMJ boxes, but these would be limited to a height of 2·5 m even with tapered corners, so the consortium has decided not to continue the development of this option.

A 212 m long trainset would be formed of nine 18 m trailers and a pair of three-system power cars, of which two types are under consideration. A TGV POS derivative able to reach Frankfurt, Strasbourg, Bordeaux, Lyon and Marseille is expected to be available off the shelf, but a PBA version for the services to Amsterdam and Liège is not expected to be ready for delivery in less than three years, probably piggybacked on an order from SNCF. Eurocarex has not identified a suitable power car for operation through the Channel Tunnel to London, which it believes might not be available for five years.

Table I. Eurocarex traffic projections

Destination Journey time from CDG Loads/day outbound Loads/day inbound
Lyon St-Exupéry 2 h 00 min 83 102
Bordeaux 3 h 00 min 25 40
Strasbourg 2 h 20 min 25 33
Frankfurt 3 h 35 min 24 77
Liège/Köln 2 h 15 min 76 36
Amsterdam 3 h 00 min 44 39
London 2 h 40 min 74 75
  • Fig 1. Three vehicle concepts have been investigated; Carex has adopted the well wagon to carry AMJ containers (top), and says studies are underway for a version to carry IATA 20 ft containers (centre). Work on the high-floor alternative has been suspended because of its limited capacity.