Rail freight services offer international and domestic transportation via freight corridors. A freight corridor defines the railway lines across one country or crossing the territory of different countries.
An efficient international rail freight requires good interconnections between countries. There are many itineraries that international trains need to follow. This calls for a coherent coordination of the corridors managers to ensure a fluid transportation.
As a mode of domestic and international transportation, rail freight shipping is most often compared to road freight. It is also used as an alternative to it or used in combination with road freight, as intermodal rail freight.
Rail freight nowadays
Railway system in Europe remains divided between separate nation networks, subject to different regulations and managed by different authorities. The involvement of different actors along the process may hinder or delay the development of the rail freight transport.
In the past year, rail freight transport has registered the lowest increase, in comparison with other modes of transport. Competition is fierce and it comes mainly from road transport and from waterborne transportation. Currently, rail freight shipping holds a substantially lower share of the logistics market than the other means of transportation.
The challenges that rail freight faces are related to high costs, unattractive schedules, the lack of a developed infrastructure to seamlessly connect freight corridors and poor connectivity with the logistics sites. All these factors influence to a great extent the choice of mode among shippers. Shippers use road freight as a better alternative which can generally replace the functions of rail freight.
Even though rail freight transport has generally registered a constant decrease in the modal share in the recent years, there are differences between European countries. Whilst in countries like Ireland, the rail transportation faced a staggering decline, in other countries, such as Austria, the Netherlands, Germany, the Baltics, the volume shipped via railways has actually increased. However, the mode share is still the lowest in Luxembourg, Greece, the Netherlands, Spain, and Portugal.
We can, therefore, draw the idea that the geographical position of a country plays a significant role in the share that rail traffic in logistics. Railway transport tends to be more developed in countries positioned between other countries or which connects Europe with Russia, for example.
The future of rail freight transport in Europe
The development of transportation via railways depends on finding the right balance between the passenger traffic and freight. Moreover, for the freight corridors to function efficiently, the corridors managers need to cooperate to allow for the smooth transportation of the cargo and ensure punctuality.
European Commission has set as objectives to enforce policies that will lead to a shift of 30% of the road transportation to rail freight by 2030 and 50% by 2050 for the journeys over 300km.
Experts in the field have identified opportunities for rail freight to take more share in the future. Authorities have to implement pro-rail policies in order to help rail freight have a bigger modal share and impel the shippers to choose rail freight services. However, this will depend on the types of the commodity to be shipped and distances to travel, on the plans of developing the infrastructure and better connecting multimodal transportation, and not the least, the peace at which all these changes will be implemented.