From Karlsruhe to Vienna: Trams are supposed to carry packages in these cities

Online trading has become an integral part of our daily life, but the way goods arrive at us must soon change. A strategy for greater climate protection: parcels could be transported by tram. Several cities in Germany and Austria want to test it.

Trams are not really full in the late morning. Or in the evening. Sometimes they are even yawning empty. This statement by researcher Michael Frey of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) also often applies to S-Bahn and regional trains: “There is a lot of air running through the area.” From the point of view of him, the transport capacities should be better used – and for the transport of parcels. So fewer package transporters would have to drive in cities, the roads would be lightened and less CO2 would be released than now, as the vehicle technician predicts.

Frey works on a research project called “LogIKTram” which started a year ago and is expected to last another two years: A three-wheeled container vehicle will automatically board the Karlsruhe tram at a stop on the outskirts of the city and drop off again in the center – there would be a courier to deliver the cargo or sort it to a parcel delivery station.

Regional trams and trains: how the parcel industry could become more climate-friendly

The Karlsruhe project is an example of the ambitions of the parcel industry. Thanks to the boom in online commerce, it has been growing for years: the Federal Association of Parcel and Express Logistics reports for 2020 4.05 billion shipments sent (courier, express and parcels). This is about 11% more than in 2019.

This raises the question of how the ever-increasing flow of goods can smoothly enter cities, without increasing air pollution and without too many vans occupying or back-row parking.

The industry is already increasingly relying on electric transporters and cargo bikes. Local transport is now the center of attention. On Tuesday, the Biek Logistics Association published a study addressing the possibilities of parcel transport in local transport. “The potential is great, but there are still many open questions to be clarified,” says co-author Ralf Bogdanski of the Technical University of Nuremberg.

Trains are always on the move, but they only have a few passengers at certain times. If occupancy is only 20-30 percent, additional allocation with packages should be possiblesays Bogdanski. This would normally be the case on the different lines in the late morning, late afternoon and evening. In the morning, parcel service providers could send their consignments to cities by rail and the containers would return in the evening.

Above all, Bogdanski considers the multi-purpose compartment of regional trains to be ideal for parking rollable parcel carriers with the standard dimensions of 1.20 meters by 0.8 meters as a base and approximately 1.50 meters in height. Packages could be transported up to 100 kilometers in a climate-friendly way, and thus cover a distance that combustion-engine transporters usually travel, he says.

People should continue to prioritize packages

In 2020, 4.05 billion parcels were transported to Germany. (Photo: CC0 / Pixabay / romeosessions)

The aforementioned multipurpose compartment has allowed you so far to take bicycles with you, and there is also enough space for people in wheelchairs and families with prams. Until now. But what if the compartment is already full of parcel boxes? “People should always come first,” says Bogdanski. “Local parcel transport is not a panacea for logistical problems, but it can be a valuable contribution to greater sustainability.”

The Karlsruhe researcher Frey points out: “The public should be well informed about parcel transport and understand it.” For example, if a father with a child and a pram wants to get on board, the container vehicle should automatically give them priority.

Testing trams for parcels: Schwerin, Frankfurt and Vienna also showed interest

So far, the parcels have not been transported anywhere in Germany by normal public transport. Swiss Post is testing Schwerin the use of trams to fill the packing stations located at the stops. The use of local transport is “fundamentally seen as an additional way to get packages to the recipient in a climate-friendly way and to ease road traffic,” says a company spokesperson. Competitor DPD makes a similar statement.

Why do parcels have to be transported together with passengers – not possible on pure freight trains? Yes, it would be possible, says Frankfurt logistics professor Kai-Oliver Schocke. In 2019, he and his team, along with Hermes, tested the use of a tram to transport packages in Frankfurt. In a simulation, they also came to the conclusion that using well-developed parcel trams would be 15% cheaper than road haulers. A “mixed operation” – ie packages and passengers on the same train – sees Schocke rather skeptical. From his point of view, a logistician would have to be present and it would be expensive.

Even the Wiener lines together with the Fraunhofer Austria Institute they developed a “climate-friendly system” for freight transport and conducted an investigation into the subject. Passengers should also carry packages here, on trips they have to make anyway. These deliver the shipments to a box where the recipients can collect the shipments. The transaction is protected by a QR code. In return, passengers should receive a payment or coupons or discounts. The duration of the research project is expected to run until May 2022. If the result is positive, there should be a pilot test. You can find more information here: Fantastic or crazy? Vienna wants to test public transport instead of DHL, Hermes & Co

In 2019, parcel transport on trams was tested in Frankfurt.
In 2019, parcel transport on trams was tested in Frankfurt. (Photo: CC0 / Pixabay / leonhard_niederwimmer)

Local transport companies are “basically open to concepts”

And what do the local transport companies say? Their umbrella organization, the Association of German Transport Companies (VDV), is “substantially open to concepts that reflect the state of the art and also clarify logistical and financial issues “, as a spokesperson says. In order to reduce emissions of climate-damaging emissions, it is necessary to transfer goods to climate-friendly means of transport. To do this, one should “discuss and weigh ideas that at first appear unusual”.

However, the association also points out that during the loading and unloading of packages, “customers are not hindered and the progress of the routes is not affected by longer parking times”. Furthermore, it should still be regulated by law that freight transport is also possible on local trams and trains. Logistics association Biek is also calling for similar legal regulation.

Professor Bogdanski expects the first regular operation in five to ten years. It is clear that the volume of parcels will continue to grow strongly year after year. “Transporting parcels in local transport is a sensible addition to sustainable transport – we really cannot afford to leave this potential untapped.”

Orders and packages: tips for greater climate protection

Do you want to prevent your programs from polluting the climate? Then you can do the following:

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