High quality and punctuality: renaissance of postal trains in Europe

2022/02/15 at 2:34 PM

European railway undertakings are continuing to looks for new types of freight. After several decades of neglect, parcels and letters have been gradually returning from lorries to trains. To this end, railway operators team up with the postal companies. This allows both parties to jointly develop and offer high-end services.

SBB Cargo postal train, source: SBB Cargo

In the early 2000s, the European railway companies cancelled almost all of their last postal trains. For instance, the last mail rail service in Sweden was stopped in 2001. Three years later, the same did happen in Austria. It was a crucial period for both the railway and postal industries as they were forced to transform their activities by losing parcels and letters as a part of their freight basis. Currently, after two decades of oblivion, there are high hopes for restoring the delivery of mail shipments. The latest development in this regard belongs to SBB Cargo in Switzerland.

Proven cooperation

Starting from 1 January 2016, SBB Cargo, the Swiss national rail freight operator, has been cooperating with Swiss Post, the country’s postal company. It has been operating 55 sliding-door wagons leased from Wascosa for delivering parcels and letters on the following routes: Gossau (Saint Galleb) – Zürich – Mülligen – Härkingen – Eclépens Sud – Geneva, Zürich – Mülligen – Landquart – Chur, and on the line between Härkingen and Cadenazzo. The parties extended their cooperation several times: in 2019 for a period by 2023 and in 2022 by 2026.

Loading a postal train in Switzerland, source: SBB Cargo

The latest dedicated framework agreement between SBB Cargo and the Swiss Post was signed in January 2022. “We depend on high quality and punctuality on rails in order to provide our services reliably. Both are the focus of our proven cooperation,” said Johannes Cramer, head of logistics services at the Swiss Post. In the coming years, SBB Cargo will run 60 daily freight trains with letters and parcels across Switzerland for the Swiss Post. According to the Swiss rail freight operator, this will result in annual savings of around 23,760 tonnes of CO2 and 183,550 truck journeys that can be avoided in favour of the environment.

More parcels by rail

DB Cargo is another European rail freight operator that revives postal trains. It launched the first parcel trains of a new type, which is based on attachable swap bodies, early as 2000. It has been running in the north-south direction. Afterwards, the company added several other connections. As a result, DB Cargo increased the number of services involved in mail and parcel delivery up to 13 by April 2021. Most of them are running on weekdays. Deutsche Post DHL, the German package delivery specialist, is a partner of DB Cargo in developing the postal trains and related services. For DHL, the cooperation has already resulted in increasing the proportion of parcels moved by rail from two to six per cent.

DB Cargo postal train, source: DB Cargo

Being committed to its long-term goal to transport around 20 per cent of national parcels by rail, Deutsche Post DHL in a partnership with DB Cargo initiated seven more dedicated train services. They have been running since October 2021 and linking the Grossbeeren freight terminal near Berlin with the metropolitan areas of Dortmund, Mannheim and Frankfurt am Main. Up to 100,000 parcels can be moved by train. Compared to road transport, Deutsche Post DHL is already saving around 1,000 tonnes of CO₂ per month by using rail. By 2050, the German postal operator is aiming for zero-emission logistics.

Converted passenger trains

In February 2019 Rail Operations Group, the British train operating company, announced its plans for developing rail-borne parcel logistics. Its dedicated subsidiary, Orion High Speed Logistics, focused on converting conventional passenger trains into postal ones. To this end, Orion High Speed Logistics ordered two four-carriage Class 319 electric trains from Porterbrook for retrofitting. Later, the number of fleet was doubled to four units.

Orion High Speed Logistics unveils converted passenger train for moving parcels, source: Orion High Speed Logistics

The first converted train was unveiled in August 2020. Its one carriage can fit approximately the same amount of goods as one articulated lorry. After a series of tests, the postal train was put into operation in November 2021 for delivering parcels between Glasgow and London. From the railway stations, the packages are being moved by bicycle or van couriers for the last-mile delivery. For 2022, Orion High Speed Logistics is planning to add more new routes.

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