How does cross-border transport work?

29. 01. 2019

Changing locomotives and drivers, different infrastructure, train protection systems, operating regulations, safety regulations, but also language barriers make cross-border rail transport much more complex than road freight transport. The following article will explain how cross-border transport actually works.

Railway systems are nationally oriented and have grown historically.

Each country has its own infrastructure, train protection systems, operating regulations, signals and safety regulations. Cross-border trains must comply with the operating regulations of the country they pass through. For example, a train must be formed in accordance with the country-specific regulations, i.e. the wagon sequence as well as the train length and train weight must meet the respective requirements.

Even the power systems, the grid voltage in the countries differ.

If a locomotive is not approved for the respective route network or equipped with the respective national train protection systems, a time-consuming locomotive changeover at the national borders or at the respective service change stations is necessary. Multi-system locomotives, i.e. locomotives that are technically equipped for lines with different mains voltages or power supplies, overcome these infrastructure interfaces. A change of drivers is also necessary if they do not have the national licenses or speak the respective operating language.

These processes clearly show that international rail freight transport is much more complex than road freight transport.

This is because a truck driver can use his driving license to travel throughout Europe and beyond. Language barriers have no influence whatsoever on transport. A truck can also simply drive off without first having to order its tour from the infrastructure operator – for rail transport, train paths must first be ordered for the respective transports. However, the complexity of rail freight transport does not necessarily play into the hands of sustainable logistics. This is why action is needed here in particular.

When things are getting tighter on the roads day after day. By 2030, the freight volume is expected to increase by as much as 30 %. These are not good forecasts for our environment, for the climate. It is therefore now a question of shifting this growth from the roads to the environmentally friendly railways. Transport is the biggest and, at the same time, the most effective lever for reducing CO2 emissions and relieving the burden on the environment. And this is precisely what the Rail Freight Forward  initiative, launched by Europe’s leading rail companies, is committed to. It makes clear how sustainable rail freight transport can be and what measures are necessary to achieve this. The aim is to make rail freight transport just as easy as road freight transport in order to make cross-border rail transport much more efficient and faster. And thus, to transfer as many goods as possible from road to rail. This requires uniform legal, technical and operational requirements across all countries.