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Modalohr tests the market

01 May 2002

Against a background of increasing concern over the safety and environmental impact of road freight using the Alpine crossings, the feasibility of carrying trailers by rail between France and Italy is to be tested using swing-tray wagons. As the first trial bores are dug for a new Mont Cenis base tunnel, the loading gauge on the existing route is being increased for the second phase of the Modalohr trial

BY THE END of this year, the first rake of Modalohr swing-tray wagons is due to begin carrying lorries through the Mont Cenis tunnel. Between 2003 and 2006 up to 50000 vehicles are expected to be carried each year over the 175 km between Aiton-Bourganeuf and Orbassano near Torino. These will comprise tankers and other trailers up to 3·80m high until work to enlarge tunnels to the UIC B+ loading gauge is completed. Four daily return workings are anticipated, and the French and Italian governments have agreed to share the subsidy required to meet operating costs.

The first Modalohr wagon left the Lohr Industrie factory at Hangenbieten near Strasbourg on March 6, and two are currently undergoing acceptance trials expected to last a total of six months. The trials are being conducted by SNCF and test agency AEF, with independent certification provided by Certifer.

Under a contract worth €15m, Lohr is to deliver 35 wagons to SPW between December 2002 and March 2003. Headed by Jean-Paul Bernadet, SPW will lease the wagons to its eventual parent C-Modalohr-Express (CME), at present a holding company owned 51% by SNCF-Participations and 49% by Modalohr.

With traction provided by Fret SNCF and Trenitalia Cargo, a CME subsidiary will be responsible for the operation and marketing of the rolling motorway service, with its parent also taking a stake in the companies formed to operate the terminals at Aiton-Bourgneuf and Orbassano. In turn, Trenitalia Cargo is expected to own a stake in each of the CME subsidiaries, and discussions are underway with SNCF.

Swing-tray solution

The articulated Modalohr wagon is 32·5m long and weighs 35·7 tonnes when empty. Riding on a Y33 bogie at each end and a shared Y25 in the middle, it has two swing-tray sections each accommodating a trailer up to 13·7m long or two tractor units. With a floor height of 150mm above the top of the rail, Modalohr will be able to carry trailers up to 4m high and 2·60m wide within the B1 loading gauge, or around 90% of existing lorries, according to SNCF.

The wagons themselves carry no powered actuators to move the swing-trays, which are unlocked at the terminal and positioned between pairs of fixed ramps for loading and unloading. A complete cycle of unloading and loading can be completed within 30min according to the manufacturer, which would give the Aiton - Orbassano shuttle a theoretical capacity of 600000 trailers a year once gauge enhancement work has been completed.

Motorway concessionaire AREA is building the French terminal at Aiton-Bourgneuf, 25 km from Chambéry and close to an existing holding area for lorries using the Mont Cenis road tunnel. AREA is expected to take a 35% stake alongside CME and Trenitalia in the subsidiary formed to operate the terminal, which will have one 550m loading track and three others for stabling and maintenance.

Rolling motorway services will be operated with two rakes of 14 Modalohr wagons, coupled to an amenity coach for the lorry drivers. SNCF BB436000 and Trenitalia E402B locomotives already in cross-border service will haul the shuttles, two or three handling each train.

Tunnel works

The provision of B+ loading gauge on the Mont Cenis route forms part of a €130m upgrading programme that RFF is undertaking on the Dijon - Modane corridor. Work is due for completion in December on the 600m Saint-Antoine tunnel where a consortium of RTS, Nouvetra and Chantiers Modernes is replacing the masonry lining with sprayed reinforced concrete at a cost of €13·7m.

Infrastructure authority Rete Ferroviaria Italiana is due to begin work on its section of the 13·66 km Mont Cenis tunnel in January 2003, while RFF expects to start on the French side the following year. These works should be completed by the end of 2006.

In the longer term, the 52 km Mont Cenis base tunnel scheduled to open in 2012 will be able to accommodate trailers on conventional wagons. Rolling motorway services over the old and the new routes under Mont Cenis would then be able to divert the equivalent of 2·6million lorries from Alpine roads.