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Broadening the appeal of intermodal

New and revised techniques are increasing the possibilities for modal shift from road to rail.

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Part of the first run of standard gauge 80ft articulated container flatcars
Part of the first run of standard gauge 80ft articulated container flatcars

Over the past few years, TX Logistik AG, part of Italy’s Mercitalia freight group, has been a major exponent of the NiKRASA lifting device for non-craneable trailers, developed five years ago by UHLY Maschinentechnik.


NiKRASA brings a much bigger population of road trailers into the potential for intermodal transport. The device is now in its second generation. iKRASA 2.0 is of lighter construction and can cater for a wider range of trailers, including mega-trailers in T-3000 pocket wagons.


Trailers purpose-built for intermodal transport with DIN lift pockets and fittings for securing to rail cars are in the minority in Europe. With NiKRASA, operators no longer have to fix special trailers, and can take advantage of readily available of standard road trailers.

It is exploited by TX on services between Italy and Germany, and onward into Scandinavia. It is now also being used by CFL, for its service for DFDS between Trieste and Zeebrugge (TurkeyScandinavia ro-rail service).

Van guard


Now, TX has come up with another device. At Transport Logistics in Munich in June, it launched r2L (for roadrailLink), which turns standard pocket wagons into automotive wagons for commercial vehicles (vans, light trucks).

The new load carrier has been developed in collaboration with trailer builder Kässbohrer Transport Technik, Salzburg-based automotive transport specialist Vegatrans (Vega International CarTransport & Logistic-Trading) and consulting firm LinkinBiz.

According to Franz Blum, Vegatrans’ managing director, r2L meets a clear need in the market, as the automotive industry has set targets for CO2 emission reductions, in some cases by as much as 30% in the next few years. “With r2L, we can save up to 30t of CO2 per departure and direction,” said Blum. “At the same time, the shift to rail will relieve road freight
transport in sensitive regions such as the Brenner route.”

Brenner service

With NiKRASA and r2L, a standard intermodal train set formed of 16 twin pocket wagons can transport 32 semi-trailers (no r2L needed in this case), 96 vans or 64 tractor units, or a mixture of all three, allowing Vegatrans to have two-way headhauls. TX Logistik and Vegatrans have been using both techniques on trains between SommacampagnaSona near Verona and Rheine in northwest Germany since September last year.

This service goes via the Brenner, where the Tyrolean government, in defiance of Vienna and the EU, but with the wholehearted support of the local population and regional Government, has been introducing more and more truck-free days at the border crossing with Italy.

Germany-based trailer builder Kögel now offers its 14.9m-long Euro Trailer in a Mega Rail version. This has an internal clear height of 3m and can transport up to six more pallet cages. Tare weight is 7,100 kg, just 200 kg more than the Euro Trailer Cargo Rail version. By law, all Euro Trailers must be fitted with lifting pockets so they are capable of being lifted onto a rail car, and they can also be equipped with heavyduty ro-ro fittings for unaccompanied transport by sea. In any event, the maximum gross weight of the Euro Trailer is 40t.

The new r2L lifting device for utility vehicles and light trucks
The new r2L lifting device for utility vehicles and light trucks

Internal only

For commercial reasons, Kögel does not supply information on its trailer numbers, but it does say that only a few of the Euro Trailers are ever actually loaded to rail. The company’s communications director, Patrick Wanner, explained that, although Euro Trailers have also been supplied in some neighbouring countries, cross-border transport of non-EU homologated trucks is not permitted, so distances may be too short for intermodal to be competitive with road.

However, a pending amendment to the German regulations will clear the way for transport on longer corridors within Germany, such as between Bremen/ Bremerhaven and Baden-Württemberg.

New rail cars


DB Cargo, Europe’s biggest rail freight company, is working on a new generation of intermodal flatcars, together with VTG. It will be marketed by both companies, and licensing is planned for early 2021.

The primary focus is on modularity. By assembling the flat wagon from a variety of standardised components, it will be possible to choose individual lengths, bogies, wheel sets and braking configurations. The wagon will remain extremely flexible throughout its lifecycle, says DB. The modular design will enable the structure of the flat wagon to be aligned with customers’ current needs throughout its service life.


VTG and DB are building on a previous collaboration on an innovative freight wagon project sponsored by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Transport and completed at the start of 2019.

“We are building on this positive experience,” said Dr Heiko Fischer, CEO of VTG AG. “We have seen in the past that we can only make rail more competitive with road if we pull together. The modular flat wagon we are developing in the project will further improve the offerings we provide to our customers and make rail more attractive.”

Dr Roland Bosch, chairman of the Management Board and CEO of DB Cargo, said: “The modular flat wagon and its individual superstructures will enable us to respond even faster to the needs of our customers in the future. That in turn will make customers more satisfied with rail freight.”


DB has just received its first batch of articulated container flatcars for testing, from Russia’s Tikhvin Freight Car Building Plant, part of the United Wagon Company (UWC). The test cars have been produced under a contract for the supply of 160 freight cars, made between UWC and DB last November, as reported by WorldCargo News Online.

These are standard gauge Sggrs 80 articulated container flatcars, and mark UWC’s entry into the standard gauge intermodal market.

They will undergo stationary testing and trial runs over a period of several months, with a particular focus on longitudinal and vertical stress tests on the frame structure, testing for shock absorption on both empty and loaded cars, tests on brake system performance, and safety tests for movement along a winding route, among others.

The six-axle cars have a length of 80ft, a loading capacity of 108.6t, and the ability to safely transport ISO containers, tank containers and swap bodies with a gross weight of up to 36t in various size categories. The design is lighter than that of its common counterparts in the European market. Axle load is 22.5t.



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