This German freight rail carrier has an automated system for loading truck wagons

No cranes, specialist terminals needed, just an asphalt tarmac located adjacent to the rail connection.
This German freight rail carrier has an automated system for loading truck wagons

A German rail freight operator has introduced new technology allowing freight wagons to be loaded from trucks onto railway carriers without entering via specialised loading terminals.

The Helrom trailer concept was recently awarded a €15 million innovation grant from Germany's federal transport and digital affairs department.

Helrom's terminal tractor technology permits the transfer of freight wagons from road to rail using just about any standard semi-trailer unit. It folds sideways and can be transferred to any rail location, without requiring major construction work.

The fully automated service was first trialled on a service from Düsseldorf and Vienna. It is orchestrated through software and wireless protocols, connected to a hydraulics-operated platform that rotates beneath the truck to receive, secure and lift the trailer into its new mode of transport.

Helrom says freight loads are secured onto its wagon platform using the combination of a kingpin to bolt the trailer into position and a master lock providing an extra level of security. Trucks can thus move onto the platform horizontally, by way of an asphalt surface close to the railway track.

Helrom, itself a cargo railway operator based out of Frankfurt, dedicated R&D and commercialisation resources to the new system because it can help achieve vertical integration in the freight carriage sector and encourage more cargo journeys by rail, reducing emissions.

By selling specific trailer slots on its trains directly to road freight carriers, without the need for intermediaries, it hopes to grow market share for railway carriage of freight payloads that currently amounts to just 2%.

Helrom's provided figures showed road transport was responsible for one fifth of CO2 emissions. Truck trailers represent roughly 74% of road freight traffic, yet many of them can't be towed by European crane operators, which means prices for rail carriage are exorbitantly high.

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