More parcels on the rails: Deutsche Bahn wants to expand the transport network

Buy shoes, furniture or laptops with one click and have them delivered to your home: For many consumers in Germany, online shopping has long been part of everyday life. The corona crisis has accelerated the trend again: for the first time last year, the mark of four billion sent parcels was cracked – that was almost eleven percent more than in the previous year, as the latest survey by the Federal Association of Parcel and Express Logistics (Biek) showed .

Truck freight transport is a major burden on the environment

Transport alone is a major burden for the environment, because the vast majority of shipments are transported by road: 64.4 million tons of these were driven by trucks on the motorways last year, according to statistics from the Federal Motor Transport Authority. This means that mail and parcels account for around two percent of all truck freight traffic.

For comparison: According to the Federal Statistical Office, there were zero tonnes in the same period.

Deutsche Post, in turn, states that it has so far had two percent of DHL parcels transported in freight trains for a large part of their route.

Deutsche Post wants to expand rail connections

On Monday the group presented new connections together with Deutsche Bahnwith which this proportion now rises to six percent. In the long term, every fifth parcel should be transported by rail. The group has not yet given an exact schedule. “The cooperation with Deutsche Bahn and the expansion of fast, light freight transport by rail is an important part of our sustainability strategy,” said Tobias Meyer, member of the Post’s board of directors.

So far, there have been 13 connections for mail and parcels at the rail freight subsidiary, DB Cargo, almost all of which run on weekends. “Now seven more train connections have been added, mostly on weekdays,” it said.

For example, the Grossbeeren freight terminal in Brandenburg serves destinations in the greater Dortmund, Mannheim and Frankfurt / Main areas.

More logistics locations would need siding

The DHL competitors are still reluctant to do so. DPD tried out parcel shipping by rail about ten years ago; in a pilot project there were trains on the Bremen – Nuremberg route, among other things. The project has been discontinued.

However, it will be some time before a significant part of the parcel volume is shifted from road to rail. Parcel service providers are difficult to reach by rail, said the rail association Allianz pro Schiene: “They built their logistics centers on the green meadow without a rail connection or transhipment terminal for combined transport, so that the warehouses can often only be reached by truck.” The federal government, together with the federal states and municipalities, is therefore called upon to take on more responsibility for spatial planning: “In concrete terms, that means: New logistics locations should only be planned and approved with a siding and transshipment to the rail.”

Rail an important market

The Post announced on Monday that it would equip selected parcel centers with sidings. “The parcel center in Cologne should make the start, in which an expansion and construction of direct access to the neighboring Eifeltor container terminal is planned”, it said.

However, structural and regulatory requirements made such projects difficult and protracted. In addition, it remains a challenge for rail companies to handle parcel transport, which is dependent on punctuality and speed, at the necessary speed.

Nevertheless, the managing director of the European Railways Network (NEE), Peter Westenberger, sees an “important market” for mail and parcels for the railways. The railway’s competitors are organized in the association.

They are “well positioned” in the so-called combined transport, which is relevant for the packages. The challenges are not insoluble, but what is needed is a “clear commitment from the shippers”, ie the parcel services. “I don’t see that at the moment,” said Westenberger. As a first step, Deutsche Bahn refers to the expansion of its own overnight freight connections: “We set up two connections for the first time in 2020 – now we are going to plan on twelve lines night after night,” it said. “If customers deliver a freight car or freight by a certain time, it will be delivered the next morning.”

Taxes on parcels from online trading required

Meanwhile, the German Association of Towns and Municipalities (DStGB) is calling for parcels from large online retailers to be taxed.

This is to raise money to finance the renovation of inner cities and town centers. “The necessary measures will require considerable additional financial resources. We therefore demand a parcel shipping tax in order to allow the large online platforms to participate in the financing of the infrastructure,” said the managing director of the German Association of Cities and Towns, Gerd Landsberg.

Online retailers such as Amazon used the city center infrastructure for deliveries, but generally did not pay any business tax, Landsberg criticized. Such a tax can generate between 1 and 1.5 billion euros.

This tax should be based on sales. The suggestion of a parcel delivery to online retail was raised last year and discussed controversially. “The city centers and town centers will not die, but they will have to change fundamentally so that people will continue to enjoy going there in the future, being there and identifying with their city and community,” said Landsberg.

This process has to start now so that the people in the municipalities can design the “future blueprint” now.


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