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More transport by rail is a must. Otherwise, we will not achieve our climate targets. Yet some companies seem reluctant to switch from road to intermodal transport. A misjudgment as there are only advantages. In this series, we talk to shippers who have already made the step.

Text: Marco Barneveld

With all eyes on the world focused on the COP26 in Glasgow, one thing is clear: rail freight transport is the way to achieve climate gains and the climate targets set. In fact, more transport by rail is required if we want to achieve the climate objectives. After all, transport is responsible for 25% of CO2 emissions. Rail is only responsible for 0.4%.

Fortunately, many leading companies have already made the switch from road to intermodal transport.

“We can’t do without this kind of transport”

Company? Electrolux
Produces? Household appliances with brands such as AEG and Electrolux
Who? Nico van den Berg, Distribution Process Lead BA Europe at Electrolux

Why intermodal?
“Sustainability is in the DNA of Electrolux. We think of all the solutions. Smart washing machines that use less water, economical refrigerators, and smarter kitchens to waste less food. We don’t just stand on the sidelines; we actively think along with our suppliers about making things even greener. Rail freight transport is essential to this. All our factories are connected to the railways. In the Netherlands, the train literally rolls into our warehouse.”

That’s pretty unique!
“Yes, we are the only place in the Netherlands where that happens. We load and unload eight to ten wagons of white goods every evening without adverse weather effects. Our locations have all been deliberately chosen so that we can get straight onto the track.”

How much do you transport by rail and intermodal?
“At the moment 61% goes by road, 27% intermodal via road and rail and 12% entirely by rail. But we are working hard on these percentages. We want to meet the climate requirements set out in the Paris Agreement. Road transport must drop from 61% to 38% in 2025. Intermodal transport must reach 44% of the total. Pure rail can also grow about three percent. At our distribution center in Northern France, we have now managed to restore the railway connection. In the transport to and from the depot, we are running pilot projects with biodiesel and e-trucks. By 2030, our transport must be climate-neutral. In 2050, our entire company. Intermodal is the central focus here.”

What are the challenges?
“Things you cannot control. For example, restrictions on the railways, or like this year’s floods and strikes in Germany. But despite that, we are well on track. The train is extremely reliable. You always know when it will arrive. A train is on time. That is the certainty of the railway timetable. Of course, the flexibility is a little less, but we know that the train will roll into our place within a time slot of thirty minutes. We cannot do without this transport. Not only as a company but also as a society. The railway is sustainable and has the great ability to absorb everything we take from the road.”

What could be better?
“The provision of information. When something goes by road, you can accurately see where the cargo is with track & trace. But when a load enters the train, we don’t know. That is a pity and certainly a point for attention. It would also benefit efficiency if there were a European railway timetable and European regulations. For example, a pilot or a lorry driver would not have to disembark at the border. All those different languages and different rules limit efficiency on the whole route.”

Do you have any tips for other shippers who are thinking about intermodal transport?
“Only via rail is incredibly capital intensive. Intermodal gives a lot of opportunities. The efficiency of the intermodal terminals is enormous. Especially now that cranes are no longer used to haul trailers on the wagons, they are driven on and off. The train remains the most sustainable form of transport. And it’s getting better and better.”

This article is part of a series of interviews written in connection with COP26 in Glasgow. Read part 1 with Swinkels Family Brewers here.

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