Dutch province pilots international fresh produce train from Valencia to Oslo

Dutch province pilots international fresh produce train from Valencia to Oslo

The Dutch province of South Holland has unveiled plans for an international fresh produce freight train, slated to commence operations from Valencia, traversing Rotterdam, and concluding in Oslo later this year. The initiative was unveiled on Thursday, April 4, during the Connecting Europe Days transport fair in Brussels.

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The primary objective behind this proposed pilot train is to showcase the viability of transporting fresh food via rail and to address the growing demand in this sector, reports Fresh Plaza.

The train is set to transport oranges and tomatoes from Spain, salmon from Norway, and an assortment of fresh produce from the Netherlands.

The project aims to kickstart a substantial shift from road to alternative modes of transport for fresh goods, with initial plans outlining one train per week. However, as logistical hurdles are ironed out, the possibility of multiple trains per day is on the horizon.

The advantages of freight trains for fresh produce transportation are manifold – offering faster, more cost-effective, and environmentally sustainable solutions. 

Notably, the transit time from Valencia to Oslo is anticipated to be reduced by a full day compared to road transport, cutting down from 100 hours by truck to 70 hours by train. 

Despite the existence of international train routes dating back to 1850, fresh food transport has remained predominantly reliant on road networks, accounting for 98% of current transport.

According to the report by Fresh Plaza, Frederik Zevenbergen, South Holland’s Traffic and Transport MP, emphasised the need for streamlined procedures, including prioritised train paths in international schedules, reduced border bureaucracy, and standardised tariffs across Europe’s national railway companies. These measures, akin to the streamlining regulations that propelled European road freight transport, are critical for ushering in a more sustainable future for rail transport.

Rotterdam, already established as Europe’s largest hub for fresh products due to its proximity to major horticultural clusters, stands to benefit significantly from this initiative. With sea, inland waterways, and road transport converging in Rotterdam, the integration of rail transport for fresh produce promises to alleviate traffic congestion and reduce emissions.

The pilot train project is a collaborative effort involving South Holland, the national government, the Port of Rotterdam Authority, Greenports Netherlands, and the province of Limburg.

 Spanish fruit and vegetable exports: road still dominates

While this pilot project highlights a potential shift in fresh food transportation methods, it’s important to note the current dominance of road freight in this sector. According to data from the Spanish fruit and vegetable producer and exporter association FEPEX, trucks were responsible for transporting 95.5% of Spanish fruit and vegetable exports in 2023, as reported by Fresh Plaza. This figure has steadily increased from 94% in 2019.

While sea freight offers a secondary option, accounting for approximately 4.1% of total exports in 2023, its presence has been declining in recent years, according to Fresh Plaza. Conversely, rail and air freight combined only accounted for a marginal share of the market in 2023, with 10,373 tonnes and 10,650 tonnes transported respectively.