Transhipment between trucks and trains takes place quickly, since the containers and trailers are compatible with both types of transport.

A combined truck/rail transportation solution helps the Swedish beverage maker Spendrups cut carbon dioxide emissions by hundreds of tons of each year.

The aluminum cans in which Spendrups sells its drinks are produced near Malmö in the far south of the country, and then transported to breweries in Vårby and Grängesberg, each about 600 kilometers away. Until recently, insufficient rail capacity meant that some shipments to Grängesberg had to be transported by road.

But these days all of Spendrups’ shipments to Grängesberg go by combined rail/truck transport. The cans are carried by truck over the short stretch from the manufacturing plant on the outskirts of the city to the downtown train station, and then loaded in containers or trailers that can be lifted directly on board electric trains for the journey north on railway cars provided by the Green Cargo shipping company. Transhipment between trucks and trains takes place quickly, since the containers and trailers are compatible with both types of transport.

Transport by truck over the entire route would cause emissions of about 1500 tons of carbon per year, while the combined solution amounts to only 250 tons per year.

“This new shipping system is better for the environment and for our climate footprint, and at the same time it cuts costs,” says Michael Hällström, purchasing manager at Spendrups. Green Cargo is able to chalk up further environmental gains by contracting to fill the return transport with goods for another customer, maximizing capacity in both directions.

Switching from road to rail transport makes an especially big difference in greenhouse gas emissions in Sweden, because this country’s electrical generation—mainly nuclear and hydropower—generates significantly less carbon than diesel. Still, all modes of transport are important links in a balanced national transport system. On routes that are not served by rail, truck transport is of course essential. But for long-distance haulage or in areas with congested roads, trains can be far superior. Infrastructure is the crucial ingredient, not least access to transshipment terminals. For example, it may be necessary to load trains directly at the ports where goods are received from other parts of the world. Rail capacity is another important factor that can determine whether it is possible for shipping companies to offer rail transport. Finally, cooperation between cargo owners and transporters is critical to finding workable solutions.

Published in April 2010