Driving piggyback: Latvian Railway launches first rolling highways

2021/06/08 at 8:48 AM

Latvian Railway (LDz) has inaugurated the first piggyback service in the country. It links the capital city of Riga with two ports, Liepaja and Ventspils, that have well-functioning ferry lines to Scandinavia and Germany. These rolling highways will assist Latvia to keep pace with Europe’s shift-to-wail policy and attract more freight to the country’s railway network.

Latvian Railway (LDz) ended the two last years with almost disastrous results. In 2019 it transported only 41.5 million tonnes or by 15.8 per cent less than in 2018. It was the lowest figure for LDz in the past 17 years. However, this result was not so shocking compared to the 2020 volumes when the country’s railway network lost 42 per cent of cargo turnover and there was set another lowest record: 24.1 million tonnes. Such a dramatic drop in freight was mainly caused by Russia’s policy dedicated to the redirection of its export freight, mainly bulk, from the ports of the Baltic states to its harbours in Saint Petersburg and Ust-Luga.

As a result, the Latvian Railway urgently needs to attract new types of freight for ameliorating the situation. It seems that the national company has found the solution. To this end, LDz Logistika and LDz Cargo, the Group’s dedicated subsidiaries, in partnership with Stena Line, the Swedish ferry operator, started to carry semi-trailers by rail. The new service was named the Green Switch to emphasise its environmental impact. “The LDz’s Green Switch project will benefit both shippers and the entire national economy and the society since with shifting freight to rail, roads will be relieved and road maintenance and repair costs will decrease, traffic safety on the main motorways will improve, while the total amount of CO2 emissions will decrease,” Maris Kleinbergs, CEO of Latvian Railway (Latvijas Dzelzceļš), said.

Loading semi-trailers for the first shipment of the Green Switch piggyback train, source: Latvijas dzelzceļš (LDz)

Green Switch timetable

The Green Switch service dates back to July 2020 when a test delivery of a semi-trailer was performed from Moscow to Travemünde, Germany, via the Port of Liepaja. First, the vehicle was loaded on a flat wagon to transport towards Liepaja. Then, it was carried by a Stena Line ferry to Germany. Now the service has been running regularly via two routes: from Riga to Liepaja (223 kilometres) and from Riga to Ventspils (176 kilometres). Both termini are located in western Latvia, whose seashore is opposite to Sweden. “It is important to understand that the future development of the Green Switch project, in cooperation with land and sea junctions, will lead to a competitive mode of transport, connected to the rail network in Europe,” Oskars Osis, commercial manager at Stena Line, explained.

According to LDz, the delivery of a semi-trailer in one direction costs 180 euros (without VAT). Despite this, each route has its schedule. To be more precisely, the Riga – Liepaja service is running once a week: on Fridays from Riga and on Sundays towards Riga. Meanwhile, the semi-trailers on the Riga – Venstpils link depart twice a week: on Tuesdays, Fridays from Riga and on Wednesdays, Saturdays towards Riga. Latvian Railways has noted that the semi-trailers should be delivered to the departure point, Riga, Liepaja or Ventspils no later than at 12:00. Within several hours, the vehicles will be loaded to the flat wagons for the delivery to the home destination. As LDz stressed, the time delivery could be changed due to the customer requirements.

Ferry links of Stena Line on the Baltic Sea, source: Stena Line

Ferry lines

Stena Line is a well-known ferry operator in the Baltic Sea. It provides a well-developed network of ro-ro and ro-pax connections. In Latvia, the Swedish company has two lines: from Ventspils to Nynäshamn, close to Stockholm, and from Liepaja to Travemünde. The vessels on the first lined provide the daily service to and from the mentioned destinations. The delivery time is slightly more than 24 hours. “Green Switch also means that shippers do not have to worry about loading their cargo onto a ferry. LDz will ensure the transfer of each semi-trailer from rail to ferry and back to rail at the ferry’s destination,” the Latvian national company noted. Each line is provided by two ro-pax ferries.

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