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“It’s necessary to keep our economy ‘on track’ to meet the sustainability challenges,” said Henk Bril, Railshipper of the year 2021.

The Railway Museum in Utrecht was the setting for the launch of the Rail Freight, the Future is Ours campaign on 20 September. This campaign is how the rail freight sector aims to support its ambitions of transporting 50% more goods by Dutch railways within ten years. An increase from 40 to 61 million tonnes. This is the only way to achieve the European sustainability goals, says initiator RailCargo. After all, in most cases rail transport is electric (powered by green electricity) and in this respect, it is ahead of other sectors, which still have to make the switch to ‘zero emission’.nog moeten maken.

Snowed under

To this end, the rail freight sector, united in the Rail Freight Table, submitted a ‘Market Vision’ to the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management. In other words, the sector’s vision of the rail network of the future. “We need to get to work on this quickly,” says Henk Bril, Distribution Safety Ambassador at chemical giant Sabic. “The interests of rail freight are getting completely snowed under in politics and (most) media by passenger transport. That is a missed opportunity and incomprehensible, indeed completely wrong, if you consider the role of the Netherlands as the logistics centre of Europe.”

Bril was one of the recipients of a Rail Cargo Award at this event; he was awarded Rail Shipper of 2021. How, as far as he is concerned, should we get the railways’ ambitions off the ground? “What personally occurs to me for the market itself is an increase in efficiency through further chain optimization. These include further combining cargoes at hubs, optimising the first and last mile, achieving greater synergy with the port of Antwerp, and deploying hybrid locomotives. But for that to happen, the infrastructure has to be in order. This calls for an accelerated roll-out of ERTMS with a greater focus on freight transport – it is, of course, a huge missed opportunity to electrify and upgrade the Maas Line while maintaining the old-fashioned ATB-NG.” Bril uses ‘ERTMS’ to refer to the European Rail Traffic Management System, the international standard for train safety. And on the Maaslijn, the rail connection between Nijmegen and Roermond, the other safety system ATB-NG will remain in operation for the next ten years, which doesn’t work with electric freight trains. “While actually, the further electrification of the freight network and proper maintenance of dedicated rail freight lines is so necessary.”

Totally hip

Rail Freight, The Future is Ours was initiated in response to a call from the Secretary of State for Infrastructure and Water Management to the sector in June 2018 to improve the image of rail freight and create wider support for it. Bril: “The rail sector is not at all dull, but extremely hip. For example, look at all the ‘big data’ that the sector generates; much more can be done with it. And we must continue to emphasise that the rail sector is actively committed to achieving the climate objectives.” So ambassadors from across the sector are rolling up their sleeves for sustainable, competitive and reliable rail freight transport. These initiatives involve ProRail, the Port of Rotterdam Authority, evofenedex and Rail Cargo information Netherlands. According to Bril, Sabic and all the rail parties at Chemelot also see the opportunities and challenges in the field of sustainability. “To cope, we feel it is necessary to keep our economy ‘on track’. We have to keep in mind the area’s livability, but even more importantly, this is a challenge and obligation that should not be underestimated: to keep our planet liveable. Rail can, rail must, and rail will play an important role in that.”

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