Many shippers use rail freight as part of their logistics mix, but more could do so if the conditions were right. Unfortunately, rail freight’s performance does not always match the performance of alternatives such as road freight. ESC works closely with railway undertakings, infrastructure managers and policy makers to ensure that rail freight’s performance improves, with a specific focus on cross-border services.
While shippers all have specific needs, the following parameters are of crucial importance to them:
- Reliability: Delays are often unavoidable, in particular for long-distance transport, but should be kept to a minimum, as they have a negative impact on the logistics chain and shippers’ commercial operations. Rail should become more resilient, so that knock-on delays are avoided or minimised whenever possible. There should be sufficient capacity on the network to accommodate unforeseen events and delays. More synchronisation is needed when more than one operator is involved in the transport of goods (which is almost always the case with international transport).
- Price-competitiveness: Price-competitiveness is key in a low-margin business such as logistics.
- Responsiveness to planning requests: response time to industry requests regarding new or existing services must be sufficiently attractive to suit shippers’ needs, including for cross-border traffic. Response times should match those of road transport for rail to be considered an attractive option. Typically, a quote for a new service should take no more than 48h, and the service itself should be launched as soon as possible afterwards. If a request is not answered within a reasonable time frame, many shippers are likely to switch to other modes of transport, such as road, to ensure that they will not lose their own customer(s).
Other parameters which are also important include the need for attractive transit times, a certain degree of flexibility – especially for shippers operating in volatile and fluctuating markets – and the need to be able to track and trace shipments.
ESC’s role is to ensure that these concerns and expectations are well understood by all parties along the supply chain, including railway undertakings and infrastructure managers, and that the regulatory framework allows and encourages positive changes to make it easier for the rail sector to meet shippers’ expectations.