Letter to the editor by Paul Bunzel on the article 'Gebummel im Tunnel' in Bild der Wissenschaft 09/2022. (Reprinted in issue 12/2022)
It is not enough just to keep emphasizing that freight transport belongs on the railways. Incentives must also be created for this. If existing offers are not being used, the question posed in the report as to the reason must be answered conclusively.
The combined transport currently offered for freight, whether unaccompanied [trailer, container or swap body only] or accompanied [truck plus driver], is inflexible and too slow. Moreover, it does not correspond to the real delivery routes of the carriers, so that trucks still have to be organized and used for the first and last mile. Add to this the 'booking situation' rightly cited by Prof. Dr. Bruckmann, and it is no wonder that [time-critical] goods are not transported by rail.
As called for in the report, the advantages of rail and road must be combined. In my opinion, it is not enough to distinguish between long-distance and local transport. What is needed is a timed transport service in at least a Germany-wide network, in which the freight forwarder can book onto suitable wagons at defined loading stations for 'boarding', 'changing' and 'alighting'. In this way, the forwarder alone defines what long-distance or local transport means for him in the transport case in question.
The immense delays mentioned and the protests against potential noise have one and the same technical cause in my eyes. It is simply incomprehensible that the rolling stock used is outdated and not designed for fast transport, but only suitable for 'wintering on the siding'. Has anyone ever compared the investments required here with the lost profits from lost transport orders? Newer bogies and braking technologies already prove that too low a speed with too high a noise level need not be an obstacle to the use of freight rail.
The slide sets for the theme evening on 14 Sep. 2022 in Saarbrücken are available for download here
Comments on various topics published in Paul Bunzel's profile - LinkedIn
Notes on combined transport (CT)
The modal split share of road transport will increase from 73.4 % to 77.5 % by 2051, while the share of rail will fall from 19.0 % to 17.3 %. This statement was forecast on the basis of the methods used in CT to date. Only two CT applications are currently in use.
- Accompanied combined transport (bKV) for whole trucks crossing the Alps. The trucks are driven onto low flat wagons one behind the other and transported through the tunnels. The delivery journey to the end customer continues immediately after transportation.
- Unaccompanied Combined Transport (uKV) through the crane loading of trailers, containers and box bodies. These transport containers are first brought to the crane system by roadworthy trucks. Here, containers and box bodies are lifted by the transport machine. As each trailer has its own running gear, only the tractor unit has to be uncoupled from the trailer in the case of semi-trailers. The containers separated in this way are loaded onto wagon types designed for this purpose using cranes. The last mile is carried out at the destination by new transport or tractor units and drivers.
In both use cases, transportation is exclusively from A to B. The possibility of boarding, disembarking or changing trains between the end points is not used. Since every truck transport is bound by strict time requirements, the train cannot always wait for all wagons to be loaded. If more wagons per train have to remain empty for these reasons, this has a negative impact on profitability.
This results in many individual A-B routes within the existing rail network, many of which overlap but are not linked to each other. The rail network is therefore not used to its full potential.
The existing routes are firmly in the hands of large freight forwarders. Operating a route makes sense for the respective company if there are customers within a reasonable distance of both end points from whom sufficient transport orders are placed.
Medium-sized or smaller forwarding companies do not usually have such routes. You could book in for a suitable transport (uKV) with a large freight forwarder. Carry out the journey to point A with your own equipment, but then neither carry out the last mile with your own equipment nor the onward journey to the loading point for the return freight. Hiring a local freight forwarder (B) reduces the low margin that already exists in the industry and is therefore not an option.
It must therefore be noted that small and medium-sized hauliers are not served by the existing CT system. The existing gap in the offer is filled by the Truck Shuttle.
Findings from the Moving Medium-Term Forecast and the Moving Long-Term Forecast on the topic of CT
Combined transport (CT), which is important in terms of transport policy and on which all the hopes of the railroads rest, is not recorded separately either in the market surveys of the Federal Network Agency or in the operating data statistics. The basic principle here is therefore guessing instead of knowing!!!
At a time when targets for rail freight transport in general and CT in particular are constantly being announced for transport and climate protection policy reasons, these are therefore subject to a great deal of uncertainty. No significant increase in the comparative figures was identified for the forecast year 2022. An increase to the target of 25% in 2030 is not achievable.
In terms of overall transportation costs, increases in fuel, vehicle and personnel costs will have an impact on market prices. However, the market prices for truck transport will not increase to an extent that will lead to noticeable pressure to increase the use of rail. Forcing hauliers to switch to rail by means of prices will therefore not succeed.
Germany is a classic transit country. Three quarters of all transit traffic is transported by truck, and almost exclusively by foreign vehicles. An increase in the share of foreign companies must be expected. There is currently no alternative to road transportation. The bKV solutions used in Switzerland and Austria are nowhere to be found in Germany.
Due to the strong growth in road-related goods, the volume of road traffic will develop much more dynamically (+34%) than rail traffic (+14%). Road's share of transport performance will increase to approx. 78% in 2051. At the same time, rail's share will fall from 19.0 % to 17.3 %. The current alternatives will therefore certainly not be sufficient in the future.
The missing component to complement the CT offer is there. The fact that a transport system that can be operated successfully in business terms, as presented in the truck shuttle concept (https://truckshuttlekonzept.de), also satisfies important key issues in its side effects such as
Ø for the driver - less strain, forced breaks are not necessary
Ø for the freight forwarder - better utilization of his equipment
Ø for the environment - less CO², particulate matter and nitrogen oxides
Ø for the infrastructure - less wear and tear/destruction
Ø for road traffic - effective proportionate relief
also demonstrates the positive economic character of the truck shuttle. However, it first needs more political attention, then the necessary funds to create a prototype, a station model and the definition of an initial pilot route.
The climate crisis won't wait!
The unequal brothers of passenger and freight transport
If you look at the railroads today, there are essentially two areas. Passenger transport [PV] and freight transport [GV]. These are like two unequal brothers who differ significantly in terms of profitability. Passenger transport, especially long-distance transport, is very economical, while freight transport in its current form appears uneconomical.
But what is the reason for this? A closer look reveals that the two types of transport differ significantly in their internal functioning.
- The PV concentrates on providing transportation services. For example, it schedules a train to run from north to south. This train has only been scheduled once in the network for the validity of the timetable and therefore has its fixed place. Who gets on and off this train and where is not part of the planning by the PV. All it needs is the 'old knowledge' that there is sufficient demand for transportation on this route. It is therefore sufficient to organize the supply and leave the adjustment of demand to the passenger.
- The freight forwarder strives to get as many goods as possible onto the rails. To do this, he must analyze the demand in the market, conclude transport orders and sort the goods according to type, volume and transport route. An offer must then be created for the transport in question, i.e. suitable wagons must be put together to form trains and organized according to the desired delivery times. In order for these trains to run, they must be individually scheduled into the train movements of the network.
It is therefore easy to see that the GM has to make a much greater effort. In addition to processing supply and demand, he must always find a free slot in the network.
From this point of view, the GV can only be less efficient than the PV.
- But does this always have to be the case?
- Can't the GV learn from the PV?
- Can't it leave the organization of demand to others in the same way as the PV and let its trains run on schedule or at regular intervals?
The satisfaction of transport demand is already predominantly organized by freight forwarders, as they have to carry out at least the 'first and last mile' by truck anyway. Having the transport of a good organized by both the railroads and the freight forwarder does not necessarily seem to make sense, especially as any organization goes hand in hand with the assumption of responsibility. Why not leave the organization of demand and thus the risk entirely to the freight forwarders? So that they can do this better, transport options for entire trucks are made available on the rail network in the same way as PV.
This would then be the basic function of the truck shuttle concept, which would realize the use of 'accompanying combined transport', which has so far only been used for crossing the Alps, on a larger scale.
How does the Truck Shuttle perform on a 400 km test delivery route?
Let's do a utilization comparison together, mental arithmetic will suffice. The following assumptions apply:
- The prerequisite is a network within the Germany-wide rail network, consisting of 4 east-west and 4 north-south routes.
- There are loading stations at every junction and every end of the line.
- The mesh size of the network is 200 km, so that no one is further than approx. 100 km away from a loading station.
- The average speed on the Truck Shuttle train is 100 km/h.
- The network is used every hour in each direction, i.e. the maximum waiting time for the next train is 1 hour.
- The dispatchers of the haulage companies calculate an average speed of 50 km/h on the road.
- Loading/unloading at the customer's premises takes 1 hour.
A freight forwarder delivers to a customer 400 km away with these boundary conditions
Ø Variant 1: Today, the entire transport takes place on the road. For example, the driver sets off at 06:00 and is at the customer's premises after 8 hours (400 km), i.e. at 14:00 for loading/unloading. After one hour, at 15:00, he starts the return journey. At 17:00, after a further 2 hours driving time (100 km), he has reached his maximum daily driving time of 10 hours and looks for a free parking space to take his 9-hour rest period. He can continue the return journey at 02:00 at night and is back at the haulage company 6 h (300 km) later at 08:00. (Total time / driving time => 26 h / 16 h)
Ø Variant 2: In future, the driver will also set off at 06:00, but will only be on the road for 2 hours to the next Truck Shuttle station (08:00, 100 km). Here he waits a maximum of 1 hour for the next train (09:00). After loading onto the truck shuttle, the truck and driver are transported by rail for 2 hours (11:00, 200 km) to the next loading station. From here it has to travel another 2 h by road (13:00, 100 km) to the customer. After 1 h loading/unloading time, the driver starts the return journey at 14:00 in reverse order (2 h road-100 km; 1 h wait; 2 h truck shuttle-200 km; 2 h road-100 km). The driver is therefore back at the haulage company with his truck at 21:00. (Total time / driving time => 15 h / 8 h)
The advantages of the 2nd variant due to the 50 % shorter driving time (8 h instead of 16 h) are clearly recognizable. This means
Less strain or stress for the driver, no compulsory breaks are necessary.
Better utilization of equipment for the freight forwarder (5 instead of 3 tours per week)
Significantly less CO², particulate matter and nitrogen oxides for the environment
Significantly less wear and tear/destruction for the infrastructure
Proportionate relief for road traffic
Where do the truck drivers come from that we need for our constantly increasing demand for goods?
The answer to this question to this day is: 'From ever more distant (poorer) countries'.
As we should have already learned from other situations, the process of recruiting from low-wage countries is finite. At some point, there will be no more 'even cheaper-wage countries'.
What we really need is a significant upgrading of the driving profession so that we can create jobs for our own market. This upgrading relates both to pay and to the entire job description, i.e. away from being just a steering wheel driver with a second home in the back of the cab.
To achieve this, we should use the truck shuttle. Here it is shown that for a 400 km sample delivery, the pure driving time for the driver is halved and the total delivery time is reduced by approx. 40 %. If the freight forwarder can only make such a delivery three times a week today with the same equipment, the truck shuttle will make at least five deliveries a week.
This means significantly more turnover for the freight forwarder but also more work for his dispatchers. In order to compensate for/reduce this additional workload, it is not necessary to employ more dispatchers, but the less busy truck drivers can be deployed, which would significantly enhance the job description of the truck driver. Each driver is virtually his own route manager and guarantees the 'success' of his delivery while the dispatcher only has to carry out the higher-level measures. The upgraded function of the truck driver should also be worth more pay to the haulier, especially as it is associated with more turnover/revenue.
The use of accompanied combined transport in the form of the truck shuttle would thus contribute to at least alleviating a considerable bottleneck in the supply chain as a kind of waste product.
Digital center buffer clutch => game changer?
Yes, the digital center buffer coupling opens up many new possibilities to positively intervene in the train composition and routing process. However, a game changer function will only occur in train routing at best. Although the pure coupling process will be significantly shortened, it will only have a subordinate effect on the overall transport process.
As is well known, time periods within each process are always divided into
- Waiting/transition/rest periods,
- Set-up times and
- Processing times
1. the time after a wagon has been made available for transportation until it is coupled into a train formation for transportation to the next destination. As sufficient wagons with the same destination must come together at the starting point to form a train, this will usually take several days.
2. the time required to couple the wagon. This will be significantly reduced with automatic coupling. Whereas manual coupling, including acceptance, takes approx. 20 - 30 minutes, it should now be possible to couple each wagon within a minute. If there are sufficient digital measuring points on the wagon, acceptance should be carried out at the same time.
3. is the time for the actual transportation from A to B. Freight trains are not among the fastest trains. For one thing, their maximum speed is significantly lower than that of passenger trains, and for another, they often have to be sidings to allow faster trains to overtake. Depending on the route, these transports always take several hours.
If you look at the transportation process in terms of time units, you will see that the times for section 1 are measured in days, times for section 2 in minutes and times for section 3 in hours.
In order to noticeably shorten the overall process, you should start with the largest unit (1st day). It requires early knowledge about the development of the products to be transported in the future, i.e. a networking of the production and transportation data of producers and transporters. The second largest unit (3rd hours) is the actual transportation. Here, the rolling stock would essentially have to be modernized, i.e. new wagons or at least new bogies in order to be able to travel at higher speeds. As this approach shows, the digital center buffer coupling has an effect on the smallest unit (2.minutes).
It is therefore difficult to imagine that the digital center buffer coupling, as important as it is, is a real game changer for the entire transport process.
Everyone should pull together
The quality of our means of transportation today clearly proves that our automotive industry is capable of the required transformation. After all, our vehicles are the result of decades of consistent development in every detail.
From my previous professional experience, however, I know that it is not enough for everyone to pull in the same direction. They also have to do this at the same time and in the same direction. The latter is definitely not the case at the moment. In both passenger and freight transport, there are different ideas about the direction in which things should go. In addition to the billions of euros mentioned, developing modern technologies takes time. Time that, strictly speaking, we don't have.
What we urgently need are processes based on known and proven technologies. These could be used quickly and would give us the time we need to develop and test completely new technologies.
In freight transport, this would be the transportation of entire trucks including tractor unit and driver by rail (truck shuttle), i.e. in accompanied combined transport. The main delivery routes are served emission-free by rail, with the first and last mile being covered by road.
(too) High hopes for single wagonload transport
Focusing more on the highly automated management of individual wagons with the same objective is very welcome. However, the prerequisite is that the relevant goods are already in containers, swap bodies or trailers for the pre- and post-carriage phase. This should enable goods that are not time-critical to be transported more efficiently than is currently possible. I therefore consider the growth rates listed to be very realistic.
For time-critical goods, we need scheduled transportation options for entire trucks on the rail network, which every freight forwarder can book into directly. That would be the basic function of the truck shuttle concept.
E-mobility in combined freight transport
Even if it is good to see that electromobility has moved more into the focus of developments in road freight transport, it remains to be said that much more needs to be done here than just improving the batteries and/or the efficiency of electric motors. Our problem is not just CO2, but also congested and broken roads, on which the new e-trucks will be moving or standing alongside combustion engines in the future.
If we want to tackle the problem fundamentally, we need a symbiosis between rail (long and medium distances) and road (short distances), such as the flexible truck shuttle concept. This means that trucks themselves are transported on a specially designed wagon and electric trucks are also recharged during this time. In a Germany/Europe-wide network, all trucks would only use the road to the nearest loading station in their own 'delivery direction' and would then be transported to the loading station closest to the delivery address itself.
If this approach were pursued consistently, the e-trucks available today would be completely sufficient for the remaining first and last mile and no additional investments would have to be made in their further development. Unfortunately, no one feels responsible for this holistic approach among politicians, operators, manufacturers and, sadly, the press, and so it seems that only individual symptoms are being addressed.
However, as we learned earlier, the sum of the suboptima is rarely the overall optimum.