A new weekly rail service, which will carry finished vehicles and automotive parts along with agribulk and chemical products between Cologne in Germany and Györ, Hungary, has been launched as part of a European research project on innovative rail freight concepts.
The project, called RETRACK (REorganisation of Transport networks by advanced RAil freight Concepts), aims to move a significant amount of cargo from road to rail and create an effective and scalable rail-freight corridor between high-demand regions in Western Europe and new high-growth regions in Central and Eastern Europe.
It is part funded by the EU Research Budget FP6, which has billions of euros to fund research projects that help develop concepts that aren't commercially viable under traditional funding models.
Rail logistics provider Transpetrol (a member of the VTG Group) will operate the train while two other of the 13-strong consortium behind RETRACK – LTE Logistik und Transport and Central European Railway – will provide the traction services. The project is being co-ordinated by TNO, the Dutch Institute for Applied Scientific Research and co-funded by the European Commission.
Having made its inaugural journey from Györ last Friday, it has departed again this afternoon from Cologne and arrives 21 hours later in Györ.
No details have been released on the vehicles being moved on the service, though Ford’s assembly plant at Cologne, which makes the Fiesta and Fusion models, is ideally placed.
Significantly, the interoperable, multipurpose locomotive will remove the necessity for changes of engine at the border stations.
The four-year project began in 2007 and the beginning of the weekly service marks a transition to the next phase of the project which will be fully implemented at the beginning of 2011 with additional trains. 
"This project concentrates on the axis between northwestern Germany/Benelux and Hungary/Romania because the rail infrastructure is not yet as developed there but there are many interesting production companies along it which could benefit from rail transport," said a Transpetrol spokesperson. "That is why the European Union have contributed money for this project." 
The RETRACK consortium is working toward the design, development and implementation of a trans-European rail freight service, starting with the rail corridor Rotterdam to Constanza (Romania) and on to the Black Sea area and Turkey (read more here).  
“It is an interesting project because rail has a huge amount of potential but it needs a huge amount of investment and this is one way that the EC manages to channel money into rail in a fair way,” said Mark Morgan, executive director at ECG, the Association of European Vehicle Logistics.
“One of the things we campaign on is getting better access to schemes like this, such as Marco Polo, moving vehicles onto more environmentally-friendly and efficient means of transport,” said Morgan. “They can’t survive commercially on their own today, but you know that with enough investment they could be good for the future.”
The ECG will be discussing how to help re-shape the delivery of vehicles in Europe at its conference in Berlin this coming October, focusing on new efficiencies and ‘green’ transport as the market recovers.
“There are important processes and channels common to all car delivery, and everyone can benefit by sharing the efficiencies and the reduced carbon impact that we can collectively deliver,” said ECG president Costantino Baldissara.
The Berlin conference will be held on the 15 October at the Radisson Blu in Berlin, and this year will be supported in its organisation by Finished Vehicle Logistics magazine under a new three-year agreement.