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HAMBURG / DUISBURG (dpa-AFX) – To keep air pollution as low as possible when transporting large shipments, the German parcel industry relies more on rail than before. After market leader Deutsche Post DHL increased its use of freight trains last year, competitor DPD’s project kicked off Tuesday night. Freight trains run between Duisburg and Hamburg, one each way and at night.
The number of shipments is initially small, there are only two DPD containers on the trains, the remaining containers – the so-called “swap bridges” – come from other companies, such as shippers. In three months, however, DPD wants to extend the project and add more routes. By the end of 2023, five percent of DPD’s domestic freight traffic should go by rail.
DPD manager Anke Förster, responsible for network planning, sees the project as another step towards climate protection. DPD sometimes uses electric vans and cargo bikes for deliveries to be responsible for as little air pollution as possible. In the case of freight trains, DPD is now focusing on the so-called the main stretch, i.e. the long distance that trucks actually drive on the highway. These trucks still have an internal combustion engine, so the CO2 balance is bad for this part of the shipment route.
Moving parcels to rail improves the climate balance: according to service provider Kombiverkehr, which organizes freight train capacity for Deutsche Bahn, CO2 emissions during container transport are more than 80 percent lower than when transported by truck. The fact that this is not 100% is due to the fact that freight trains use an electricity mix that comes not only from renewable sources but also from burning coal.
DPD tried a similar project ten years ago but discontinued it after a good year. “Back then, the public’s awareness of climate protection was not as clear as it is today,” says Förster, DPD’s logistics manager. For customers, not only price and delivery time – that is, delivery time – are important now, but also sustainability. In addition, the capacity range of freight trains has become better and more flexible.
DPD containers are loaded in the evening in Duisburg or Hamburg and shipped over the 400 km route. They’re at the destination station as scheduled in the early morning. According to Förster, the use of railways is logistically much more complex. “Trucks usually run from one depot to another on the highway, and they can be changed flexibly,” says the manager. However, in the case of rail transport, trucks go from the depot to the loading station in the evening, where the containers are hauled onto the trains. In the morning, other trucks pick up the containers at the destination station and transport them to another depot. Reliability is very important here, says Förster. A goods train running late puts a lot of pressure on the logistics of deliveries.
The main competitor from Bonn, Deutsche Post DHL, deals with other quantities. The Bonn Group uses entire trains, not just a few containers. Roughly, a freight train has 70 containers. According to Deutsche Post, 50 to 70 freight trains transport DHL parcels in Germany on several routes a week.
“As the market leader in green logistics, we already have significantly lower CO2 emissions per package than our competitors,” says postal board member Tobias Meyer. DHL freight trains use only renewable energy. Last year, DHL increased its rail freight share from two percent to six percent.
In the future, it should be up to 20 percent. – subject to improvement of the framework conditions. “For example, we need faster light-freight wagons again, better route accessibility thanks to infrastructure extensions and simplified procedures for building or upgrading rail links and loading terminals,” says Meyer, member of the post office management.
Industry experts positively evaluate the inclusion of railways in the transport of parcels. “This is an important building block for reducing CO2 emissions,” says Kai-Oliver Schocke of Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences.
However, the share of rail shipments should not be too high, says the logistics professor. On the one hand, many depots are so far from the railroad transhipment points that rail transport is not profitable – delivery and collection would take too long and would not provide climate protection benefits if the truck’s track to depot route was long. Ultimately, Deutsche Bahn was asked to extend the freight train route network.
The logistics company Hermes does not ship packages on freight trains. “There are only a handful of track offers that meet our needs,” says a company spokeswoman. Throughout the process chain, rail transport is much more expensive than road transport. Moreover, “contrary to the wishes of customers”, the travel time on the tracks is longer. The spokeswoman says, however, that the ecological advantage of railways is “clear” – in fact, you are open to the topic.
The start was a bit bumpy. The freight train left Hamburg one hour late from Hamburg on Monday evening, and the containers were ready for pickup in Duisburg an hour and a half later than planned on Tuesday morning, a DPD spokeswoman said. A spokeswoman for the company stresses that the “promise of efficiency”, according to which DPD parcels usually reach the recipient after one or two days, is kept despite the delay
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