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Advantages and disadvantages of rail freight transport

Rail transport is one of the oldest modern forms of transportation. It appeared in the early 19th century in England, the land of the Industrial Revolution.

It was in 1825 when Stephenson constructed the first steam-powered locomotive. In the same year, the first locomotive on the Stockton - Darlington route in England was tested.

Rail transport means transferring passengers and goods on wheeled vehicles running on rails. Although railways are not the leading technology of any industrial revolution, they are an indispensable wheel that drives modernization.

In almost every country, rail transport is a "pillar" of the transport economic system. Rail transport is an indispensable part of foreign trade and is an essential transportation mode for cost, distance, time and reliability.

The world's modern railways have a unique role in connecting industrial and consumer zones, urban centers, regions and states. When goods need to be moved long distances, few transportation modes can be as efficient as a rail.

The length of railways in the world

With the development and construction of bridges and tunnels, rail traffic was gaining importance. To date, about 1,400,000km of railway network have been built in the world. About 70% of the railway network is located in Europe and North America.

Most rail networks have been built in the United States (about 250,000km), China (about 100,000km), Russia (about 85,500km) and India (about 65,000km).

Among European countries, Germany (about 38,000km) and France (about 29,000km) have the most extensive railway network, and Switzerland has the most electrified railways (98%). Japan has enormous passenger traffic and the United States and Russia have vast rail freight traffic.

The most famous transcontinental railway routes globally are North and South Trans-Canadian Railways, North, Central and South Pacific Railways (USA), Buenos Aires - Valparaiso, Australian Transcontinental Railway, Trans-Siberian Railway, Beijing - Alma Ata and Central African Transcontinental Railway.

Railway traffic has been growing recently. According to the Statista, in 2019, approximately 3.1 billion tons of goods were transported by rail through Europe and Turkey, and almost 3.5 billion tons of cargo were transported across Asia, Oceania and the Middle East.

Rail freight transport generally grew worldwide between 2018 and 2019, except in Africa, where railways saw a slight decline in freight activity.

In this blog post, we bring you the main characteristics of rail freight, its advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages of rail transport

Some advantages and disadvantages may seem contradictory because some benefits depend on many factors that can easily turn them into weaknesses.

The most significant advantages of rail transport are:

1. Safety

Rail transport is the safest mode of transportation because it is least affected by weather conditions. When goods are transported by rail, they are protected from sun, rain, snow and other weather conditions.

Minimal cargo handling and minimal dependence on human factors can reduce the risk of errors and make this transport reliable. The chances of accidents and breakdowns on the railways are much less likely compared to other modes of transportation.

2. Suitable for bulky and heavy goods

Rail transport is economical, fast and most suitable for transporting heavy and bulky goods over long distances.

3. Better organized

Rail transport is better organized than any other form of transport. It has specific, fixed routes and transport times. Its service is safer and more regular compared to other modes of transportation.

4. Environmentally friendly

It is known that transport pollutes the environment in various ways. Transport activities cause vibrations, noise and negatively affect the balance of the global climate. Rail transport is the most environmentally friendly transportation mode for people and goods, which is important in developing the global economy and decarbonization.

It is estimated that up to 70 million tons of harmful gases are released into the atmosphere annually. Railways pollute the environment to a much lesser extent and at the same time consume much less energy needed to transport goods, compared to road and air transport. The advantages of rail transport in the field of environmental protection are becoming increasingly apparent.

5. Larger capacity

The railway has a substantial elastic and carrying capacity, so adding additional wagons can easily increase it. Freight trains can transport various cargo types such as containers, vehicles, livestock, goods such as; cereals, coal, minerals and metals, etc.

6. Cheaper transport

Rail transport is very energy efficient and is characterized by the low cost of long-distance transportation. Compared to road transport and the number of trucks needed, rail transport ensures that all goods are transported in a single consignment.

The railway infrastructure occupies 2-3 times less land space than other transport modes, with approximately the same transport effect.

Disadvantages of rail transport

Although rail transport has many advantages, it is associated with certain limitations, i.e., disadvantages. While rail transportation can be an excellent solution for many shippers, it is not ideal for every cargo. There are some limitations to consider.

1. Large capital outlay

The railway requires a considerable investment of capital. Construction, maintenance and overhead costs are very high compared to other modes of transportation.

2. Lack of flexibility

Another disadvantage of rail transport is its lack of flexibility because routes and timing cannot be adapted to individual requirements. Transportation routes and departure times are fixed.

The railroad always ends at some point, so the goods have to be transferred from one carrier to another. This process is called transshipment and often involves additional costs and time.

3. Unsuitable for short distances and small loads

Rail transport is unsuitable and uneconomical for short distances and small traffic of goods.

4. Lack of door-to-door service

Rail transport cannot provide a direct door-to-door service because integration with another service is required to deliver goods to the desired destination. For example, it can be combined with road transport.

5. Speed

Railway transport is slower than airway and road transportation due to frequent stops at stations.

6. Under-utilized capacity

The railway must have a full load for its ideal and economical operation. Since it has a very high carrying capacity, the exploitation of its capacities in most regions is a significant financial problem and economical loss.

Railway today

The modern railway is still the world's leading form of land freight transport.

Nowadays, railways are being built on a much smaller scale, only in those parts of the world where it is necessary to provide cheaper transportation of larger cargo quantities and in a specific direction.

Due to the more substantial development of new younger transport branches, such as road and airway transport, the standard railway is slowly losing its importance. But modern railways play an essential and significant role in connecting the world's industrial parts and overcoming great continental distances.

In the competitive economic environment of the 21st century, rail freight is crucial. Logisticians are increasingly striving to expand the capacity and productivity of their network by investing in advanced technology and infrastructure. The demand for new and upgraded railways has been overgrowing in recent years.

Railways need significant investments in the expansion, planning and design of new railways and further modernization of the railway network's capacity to ensure their competitiveness in the transport of goods.

Due to the significant environmental problems that occur with other forms of transport, rail transport is increasing. As rail transport increases, more and more work is being done to improve and modernize infrastructure, increase transport speeds and shorter transport times.

Is rail transport suitable for your cargo?

Rail freight is cheaper than airway but more expensive than sea transportation. However, in places where port transport is not possible, rail is a more efficient choice. To estimate rail freight rates, you need to consider different aspects such as distance, geographical location, type of wagon, weight, and freight type.

Freight charges are most often calculated by volume or weight. However, rail transport costs are sometimes calculated per pallet as well.

When choosing rail freight, you can ship the goods in FCL or LCL containers.

FCL transport is a full container transport service that allows you to order a whole container for transporting goods. If you want to place an order on Hubbig digital platform, it is necessary to choose one offer concerning the price and transit time. Once you confirm the order, our partners will contact you via the platform.

If your cargo is not so urgent and you want to go for a cheaper solution, you probably need an LCL transportation solution.

LCL transport is the name of a groupage container transport service that allows you to determine exactly how many cubic meters you need. On Hubbig you can send packages as small as one cubic meter (1m3) in size.

All you have to do is register for free on the Hubbig platform. Then enter the dimensions and weight of your cargo in the app to get the optimal price according to the price and transit time criteria. Once you decide on one offer, Hubbig partners will contact you via the platform.

Transporting goods by rail is certainly cheaper, especially when it comes to long distances. Besides, it can offer greater reliability and the ability to transport large quantities of goods. In general, exporters use rail freight services when other modes of transport are inappropriate or relatively expensive.

Rail transportation can be a cost-effective and efficient way of shipping goods, but you need to carefully weigh the pros and cons to make sure this form of transportation is appropriate for your business.

If you need to transport a heavy load and you do not have a time limit, rail transport is the most logical mode of transportation if there is a railway at the place of delivery.

The Hubbig team is ready to help you and find the solution that best suits your needs. Contact us today to find out your options and see how you can save time and money and send your shipment on time.

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