The increase in goods transport is becoming more and more of a problem — above all for climate targets. The Federal Ministry of Transport is expecting goods transport to increase by 38 percent by 2030, measured against 2010. Rail transport represents the most climate-compatible transport option: One freight train only requires 30 percent of the energy of a truck and only causes 25 percent of its emissions harmful to the climate. Nevertheless, trucks account for 71 percent of transport services, trains a mere 18 percent. These are the findings of a position paper published by the Agora Verkehrswende Initiative in the spring under the title “Securing the Mobility of Tomorrow with the Traffic Turnaround. 12 Theses for achieving the Traffic Turnaround.

The declared aim of this joint initiative between Stiftung Mercator and the European Climate Foundation is to promote the conversion to a climate-friendly and sustainable transport system. Only if fossil fuels are replaced by power from the sun and wind as well as fuels based on Renewable Energies, can the decarbonisation of goods transport be achieved in view of the massive growth forecast, according to the paper.


© Uwe Miethe
© Uwe Miethe

Political will fizzled out


Experts see the greatest potential for strengthening rail transport in the area of freight. “Even if road transport will soon be increasingly converted to renewable power, rail offers a clear advantage over trucks with its existing system of overhead power lines”, states the 104-page document. Shifting goods transport to rail has been a declared political ambition for years, it says. According to the National Sustainability Strategy of the Federal Government from 2002, rail’s share should have been raised to 25 percent by 2015.

The intention of the initiative is to identify the options and flexibility of goods transport. Only a few companies were in a position to fill whole trains with their just-in-time production schedules, it states. The demand for solutions with individual wagon-loads in so-called combined transport with individual goods wagons is high, it says, but this is comparatively expensive and complicated. Costs in shunting yards could be lowered and efficiency increased thanks to automation and digitisation. Logistics centres would have to be responsible for coordinating intermodal transport chains which achieved higher load factors with reduced costs through skilful bundling and recombination of the wagons.

Drive concepts for long-distance trucks

The decarbonisation of road freight transport is at the same time an important point where progress must be made, the report states. There is so far no drive concept that represents a yardstick for the energy turnaround in transport for long-distance road freight, it says. “Until it turns out what kind of drive they are going to have later, trucks have to become more efficient by other means and as quickly as possible, it adds. There was potential above all for improvements in the aerodynamics, rolling resistance and promotion of lightweight structures. Based on the current state of knowledge, batteries will not provide the usual ranges required for long-distance road freight, even by 2050. This problem could be circumvented by means of overhead cable hybrid trucks, but in addition to outstanding technical questions, this solution still founders above all on international agreement on financing and implementing an overhead cable infrastructure across Europe.