More efficient and environmentally friendly transport

Latvian Logistics Association together with 14 partners from Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Poland, and Lithuania participated in COMBINE project which was funded by the Interreg Baltic Sea Region Programme.

The project aimed at enhancing the share of combined transport, CT, in the Baltic Sea Region to make transport more efficient and environmentally friendly. It followed a comprehensive approach to strengthen all parts of the transport chain: main leg, terminal handling, and last mile.

Combined transport operation – carriage of goods if a goods vehicle, trailer, or semi-trailer with or without a tractor unit or in the combination thereof, or 20 feet or larger containers in the initial (final) leg of a journey use a motorway, but in the remaining legs use a railway, inland waterways, or maritime routes, if any of the legs of the road, except for the motorway, exceeds the distance of 100 kilometres in a straight line. Within the framework of a combined transport operation, the initial (final) leg of the journey shall be undertaken along a motorway between the place of loading (unloading) the goods and the nearest railway station suitable for loading (unloading) the goods or within a radius not exceeding a distance of 150 kilometres in a straight line from an inland port or seaport where the goods are loaded (unloaded).

Source: Law on Carriage by Road

Advantages of combined transport

  • Business advantages:

    • Up to four tons more cargo (44 t).

      Up to four tons more cargo (44 t).

    • No road user charge (vignette) payments.

      No road user charge (vignette) payments.

    • Exemption from driving bans on certain days or times and reliable transit times.

      Exemption from driving bans on certain days or times and reliable transit times.

  • Economic advantages:

    • Lower costs of cargo unit.

      Lower costs of cargo unit.

    • Reduction of street congestion.

      Reduction of street congestion.

    • Up to 70% lower carbon footprint than road-only long-distance transport.

      Up to 70% lower carbon footprint than road-only long-distance transport.

    • Higher transportation security.

      Higher transportation security.

    • Economic use of modes of transport.

      Economic use of modes of transport.

  • Direct advantages for clients:

    • Lower manpower costs.

      Lower manpower costs.

    • Gain in competitiveness.

      Gain in competitiveness.

    • Savings on fuel.

      Savings on fuel.

    • Less wear on equipment.

      Less wear on equipment.

Source: UIRR, SGKV

In the case of Latvia, CT has another benefit – additional cargo to rail as cargo turnover was down by 42% in 2020.

Source: Ministry of Transportation

CT in numbers

CT in numbers

Between 2010 and 2019, there was no radical change in the modal split of freight transport in the 28 EU countries. The share of road transport increased from 75.7% to 77.4%, the share of rail transport decreased from 17.4% to 17% (there is a potential for increase), but the share of inland water transport decreased from 6.9% to 5.6%. The modal split, however, among countries differs substantially. For example, the share of railway transport in Ireland in 2019 was 0.6 %, but in Latvia 73.6%, which is the highest indicator. In Northeastern Europe, the share is higher than elsewhere in the EU, mostly higher than 25%.

Looking at the percentage growth of intermodal rail freight* in tonne-km, there has been a steady growth resulting in an overall increase of almost 35% over the last decade.

Across European countries, the share of intermodal rail freight varies considerably. For example, in 2018 in the Baltic states the share was only 1%, 2%, and 3% (in Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, respectively), while in Greece 73%, in Spain and Portugal 55%, in Denmark 34%, but in Germany 29%. The increase in the share of intermodal rail freight between 2016 and 2018 has been particularly large in Greece (+ 30%) and Denmark (+ 23%).

According to BSL Transportation analysis based on a survey, CT market will grow by 31.9% from 2019 to 2025, and by 65.4% from 2019 to 2030.

*Multimodal transport of goods, in one and the same intermodal transport unit by successive modes of transport without handling of the goods themselves when changing modes.

Source: UIRR

Shifting of freight transport from road to rail

To improve the modal share of rail freight transport stakeholders have to take action in several fields.

Railway undertakings:

  • Restructuring and modernisation;
  • Quality, flexibility, and ease of use;
  • Automation and more user-friendly interfaces;
  • Contingency management;
  • Standardization of assets.

Infrastructure managers:

  • High-quality infrastructure;
  • Network accessibility;
  • Easy and innovative train operations.

Policy makers:

  • Internalization of external costs;
  • Reducing track access charges;
  • Reduction of costs;
  • Stimulating and maintaining best last-mile infrastructure;
  • Supporting innovation;
  • Operational and technical interoperability.

Source: BSL Transportation, 30by2030, DB Cargo, UIRR

CT support programmes

In the EU, including the Baltic Sea region, state support for CT varies significantly. For example, in Latvia, the only non-financial support is that the vehicle compositions that conduct intermodal transport operations and carry containers or swap bodies are allowed to be up to 4 t heavier, 5 cm wider and 15 cm longer as other vehicle compositions. Similar CT parameters are in other countries, except Sweden, where vehicle compositions may reach 25.25 m and 74 t under certain conditions / specific roads, but in Finland 34.5 m and 76 t.

Before COMBINE project there was only one position in the field of financial support in Latvia – if a goods vehicle or trailer (semi-trailer) has participated in the combined carriage by rail in the territory of Latvia, the vehicle operation tax for such vehicle shall be reimbursed in proportion to the days which have been spent in combined carriage by rail in the territory of Latvia within the calendar year. Since CT service development is expected as a result of the LLA and its partners’ pilot project, the railway infrastructure manager LatRailNet has set special infrastructure charges for the newly established freight market segment of contrailers (semi-trailers on pocket wagons).

Elsewhere, for example, in Sweden and Denmark, there are compensation / direct grants for CT (per km, for process and technology support). Denmark is also investing in the modernization of railway terminals, including in ports. In Germany, among other things, there are direct grants for CT terminal infrastructure. In Poland, a discount on rail infrastructure access is available for CT, as well as direct grants for the development of the TEN-T network and multimodal transport.


LLA Pilot

During COMBINE project, LLA with its partners, including global logistics company Schenker and LDz Logistics, carried out a trial run: a semi-trailer was put on a railway pocket wagon and sent by rail from Moscow to the port of Liepaja. From there the semi-trailer was taken by Swedish shipping company Stena Line ferry to Travemunde in Germany where it again was loaded unto a pocket wagon. A new special intermodal wagon for 1520 mm railway system with new handling technology from the First Federal Intermodal Freight Operator (Russia) was used in the pilot project.

Trial run data:

  • Costs: 1250 EUR;
  • Time: 5 days;
  • The transit time for a single wagon could be 4–6 days in
    general. In the case of a block train, it would take 50–55 hours to
    make the distance and some 27 hours to take the semitrailer by
    ferry from Liepaja to Travemunde.

One of the results of the pilot project – Latvian Railway in May 2021 started to offer a new service Green Switch, that entails regular transportation of semi-trailers by rail.

Technology used in the pilot project

Loading and discharging of the semitrailer is done by using a special, basket-like lifting carrying unit. The handling units are any of the following: portal crane, gantry crane, or reach stacker.
The handling unit’s top lift spreader with a piggyback gripper latches onto the lifting carrying unit gripping points and lifts it with a semitrailer as a single unit.
In Liepaja reach stacker and ropes were used to lift the cargo.
The technology is applicable to tri-axle semitrailers up to 14.2 m long.

Business in Latvia is interested in CT

According to surveys conducted by LLA, logistics companies, retail chains, and other potential clients within the Baltics would be interested in using CT under the following preconditions:

  • Suitable infrastructure (no major investment is required in the specific technology used in the LLA trial run – only this platform, which can also be used for transporting containers, with a metal basket for lifting a semi-trailer);
  • Suitable price that is competitive with road transport;
  • Time – so that it is not much longer than for road transport alone;
  • Flexibility and guarantees, i.e., that the service is like a regular passenger service regardless of the specific need on a given day.

Accoring to Latvian State Roads data, the number of lorries (over 3.5 t) crossing the state border in recent years shows the potential of CT (shifting freight from road to rail) in the Baltic region. There are about one million vehicles in the case of the Estonian-Latvian border, and about 1.4 million vehicles in the case of the Lithuanian-Latvian border (excluding the direction to Liepaja).

Business in Latvia is interested in CT

Changes in legislation

After the pilot project, LLA suggested changes in the Road Traffic Regulations supported by the Ministry of Transport (MoT) to allow semi-trailers involved in CT to be up to 4 t heavier just like in case of containers.

LLA also initiated discussions with the MoT, its state capital companies and hauliers about the possibility to introduce in Latvia Swedish practice where longer and heavier vehicle compositions are allowed to carry out CT operations if the weight on the axles is not increased.

Both cargo shippers and hauliers are interested in the solution – European Modular System (EMS):

  • Two vehicles instead of three to move semi-trailers;
  • According to Swedish and Dutch experience, traffic safety is not
    negatively affected;
  • Less fuel consumption and reduced CO² emissions;
  • Less total room on road;
  • Lower cost per tonne-km;
  • Less road damages;
  • Lack of drivers reduced.

Advantages of EMS and CT in numbers and transport policy

In 2019, a total of 100,510 trailers and semi-trailers were transported by sea in both directions between Latvia (Ventspils, Riga) and Sweden (Nyneshamn, Stockholm).

The introduction of Swedish vehicle length and weight requirements in Latvia would mean an opportunity to reduce the number of vehicles (trips) by about a third or 33,503, while reducing fuel consumption per tonne-km by up to 15%.

Thus, EMS would have a positive effect on the aim of the Transport Development Guidelines 2021-2027 (TDG) to contribute “to the economic growth of the country, incl. development and accessibility of the business environment”, as well as meet the tasks in the sections Air Quality, Climate Change and Noise of the Environmental Report of the Strategic Environmental Assessment.

“Transport policy aims at an integrated transport system that ensures safe, efficient, intelligent and sustainable mobility, promotes the country’s economic growth, regional development and contributes to the transition to a low-carbon economy.” (TDG)

The potential of CT (shift of cargo from road to rail) in Latvia is also evidenced by the fact that only 12–14% of container turnover in ports are transported to / from the ports by rail (the rest by road).

Containers transported from/to ports in the Latvian railway system

Advantages of EMS and CT in numbers and transport policy
*Inland transit through Latvia, e.g.m from Estonia to Lithuania, etc.
Source: Latvian Railway (infrastructure manager); Ministry of Transport; Central Statistical Bureau

COMBINE aims at enhancing the share of combined transport in the Baltic Sea Region in order to make transport more efficient and environmentally friendly

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