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Citing increased road freight competitiveness, rail groups urge German Government to abandon long trucks

German rail freight organisations have raised their voices against the extension of the licence for long lorries, saying it will encourage hauliers to continue transporting goods by road rather than by rail for environmental reasons.

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The Federal Ministry of Transport in Germany is considering extending the registration of Type 1 long trucks (articulated vehicles with a maximum length of 17.88 metres) on the road beyond the current limitation, which is set to expire on December 31, 2023. This extension is proposed until December 31, 2026. Four associations, including Allianz Pro Schiene, “Die Güterbahnen,” VDV, and VPI, are opposing this proposal and instead advocate allowing the approval of these extended semi-trailers to expire at the end of the year, as initially planned.

The organisations published a joint press release which emphasizes that the extension of Type 1 long trucks contradicts the goals of the German government’s transport policy. The government’s coalition agreement aims to shift more transport from the road to environmentally and climate-friendly rail and increase the market share of rail freight transport to at least 25 per cent by 2030.

However, according to the organisations, the use of oversized lorries like Type 1 long trucks undermines these transport policy goals. Long Heavy Vehicles (LHVs), including these oversized HGVs, can carry more cargo than traditional trucks with only slightly higher operating costs. This cost advantage makes road transport cheaper, leading companies to shift their transport from rail back to the road, argues the press release.

A significant concern is the incompatibility of Type 1 long trucks with combined transport (CT). Combined transport involves transporting loading units, such as containers or semi-trailers, by road to a transhipment station, then transferring them to rail for long-distance transportation. This approach is more environmentally and climate-friendly than long-distance truck transport. However, Type 1 long lorries are too long for this efficient loading and transfer process.

To use Type 1 long trucks for combined transport, they would require special adaptations, such as foldable underrun protection, an adapted vehicle frame at the rear, and a reduced interior height. These modifications reduce the transport volume of the extended semi-trailer and make it economically unattractive for transport companies. Furthermore, these modified long trucks cannot be loaded into standard double pocket wagons used in rail freight transport, limiting their use in the rail network.

The press release argues that conventional semi-trailers with a length of 13.60 meters are standard throughout Europe and can easily be used in combined road-rail transport. The approval of Type 1 long trucks not only devalues the thousands of railway wagons designed for standard semi-trailers but also contradicts the standardization efforts in combined transport in recent years.

The organisations suggest that it is more appropriate for Germany to support the simplification of freight transport across Europe and allow the registration of Type 1 long trucks, which is set to expire at the end of 2023, to proceed as planned. Instead, the Federal Ministry of Transport should focus on ensuring the combined transport capability of other long truck types, especially Type 2-5, which often carry at least two loading units.