Peter Reinshagen’s remarkable business career is highlighted by his efforts to accelerate and fine-tune air, road and rail transportation, and finding tailored solutions to better serve
customers. In his role as Managing Director of Paris-based Ermewa, a European leader in railcar rental, his tasks are numerous: making his company’s railcars and the trains operating them more
attractive to the market, increasing turnover whilst at the same time reducing greenhouse gas emissions, upping productivity, and improving the sector’s poor reputation in general.
To achieve these targets, Ermewa has set up an ambitious masterplan that will be gradually implemented in the coming years.
Railing goods across Europe: too slow, inefficient and little transparent, thus not an attractive option.
Instead of heading towards “industry 4.0”, this mode of transportation has missed out on the connection to modern times.
These and other complaints about the current state of cargo trains can be heard from most forwarding agents and leading shippers, many of whom have turned their back on rail transportation,
preferring trucking instead.
Reputation change is needed
But does this negative mood reflect the reality?
Fact is, that the eco-friendly mode of rail transportation is in the midst of inventing itself anew, taking a U-turn, combined with technical innovations and trend-setting decisions by railway
managers to make the sector competitive, such as Ermewa Chief Peter Reinshagen, to name but one.
His and his company’s first steps were, and still are, a number of incentives to change the poor public image of rail freight and present this mode of transportation as the best solution to
achieve the ambitious climate goals set by the EU and the block’s member states. This argument is both rational and emotional, and based on the undisputable fact that cargo trains have, on
average, an energy consumption that is 6x lower than that of trucks and this is evidenced by low emission figures.
Simultaneously, Ermewa and similar companies are preparing to operate modernized railcars and are improving the entire traffic management by digitalizing their processes.
However, the big European players in rail cargo are still state-owned enterprises, which are almost all in a difficult financial situation and concentrating on seeking short-term remedies, rather
than implementing the radical changes that would be necessary, Mr Reinshagen argues.
Pulling in one direction
The manager’s conclusion: The current market share of rail freight within the EU fluctuates between 15 and 20 percent, differing from country to country. This is too low and can only be massively
increased by creating a competitive and state-of-the-art rail freight transport system, making it attractive to the market players. Intelligent freight trains and innovative railcars are part of
the masterplan package.
“Only if we speed up the modal shift from road to rail, which is supported by the broad public, can the climate targets set by the EU for 2030 be achieved,” he argues, knowing that large
public funding is needed and has to go hand in hand with the initiatives kicked off by the railway companies. In this respect, the rail sector and politics are pulling in one direction.
Having said this, he highlights a second important field requiring massive changes: manual work in daily cargo train operation must be substantially reduced and replaced by digital data exchange.
Otherwise, running times cannot be shortened and it will be impossible to offer a competitive price level.
Smart data management needed
A key tool enabling this, is the change from manual to automatic coupling and decoupling of wagons and locomotives. This is something of a revolution in rail freight, at least in Europe, because
the existing coupling technique was introduced more than 100 years ago and has not really changed since. In addition, the entire train will have smart data and electricity management, which will
allow for innovative braking systems and cargo monitoring processes. “Once accomplished, we will be able to exploit new market segments, provided we are becoming faster, operating
smarter,” Mr Reinshagen estimates.
The migration plan for a more prosperous future of cargo trains will be presented to the German government in Berlin on December 10th, 2019.
It can be expected that the presentation will provide a lot of food for thought for the subsequent discussion, against the backdrop that the German railway company DB Cargo is plunging deeper
into the red, leading to the reshuffling of its management, announced at the end of last week.
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