Cargobeamer – a German company that has developed a new high-speed road-rail transfer system – has installed its first fully operational system at Volkswagen's Wolfsburg plant, Cargobeamer chief executive officer, Dr Hans-Jurgen Weidemann told a press conference in London last week. 
By Chris Lewis

At the moment, the facility is handling trailers on trains arriving from conventional piggyback terminals, but later in the year Cargobeamer hopes to have a second full terminal in operation in Calais.

According to Dr Weidemann, Cargobeamer will massively speed up the shifting of road trains to rail wagons and vice-versa using special pallets. Arriving truck drivers position their trailers on the pallets, which are then moved onto the rail wagons. The system has the advantage over conventional 'piggyback' (trailer on flatcar) operation that the train does not have to be present when the truck arrives. It is also a quicker and cheaper method than cranes.

Cargobeamer says that the automotive industry, along with other sectors dependent on rapid, just-in-time logistics, was particularly interested in the system, as it is capable of transferring a complete trainload of trailers within 15 minutes. “Customers will not accept waiting times in terminals of 1-2 days, especially in sectors like automotive,” said Dr Weidemann.

However, officials from the port of Calais said privately that French state-owned SNCF, which has a near-monopoly on rail freight movement in France, was unenthusiastic, as it has developed its own 'Modalor' piggyback system. It was only at the insistence of local politicians and the Chamber of Commerce that the Calais terminal had been pushed forward.

Cargobeamer envisages an initial route from Calais, via Berlin, to Legnica in Southern Poland and also another into Southern Europe from 2014. But eventually it hopes to develop a network of around 220 trains a day, handling around 5% of the 350m truck movements in Europe every year.

Cargobeamer, which could also handle containers or swapbodies as well as trailers, holds out the prospect of rapid transfer of loads between trains at places where the rail track gauge changes – for example, between Byelorussia or China and Russia.