‘Modular trucks’, 25-metre long, 60 tonne vehicles, being tested across the EU for their capacity to carry larger volumes in fewer trips, have come in for sharp criticism from the rail industry, which accuses their manufacturers of pushing up road-transport demand unsustainably.
The introduction of ‘monster trucks’ would make road transport less expensive than it is now, creating a modal re-shift of freight transport from rail to road, according to a study published on 20 July by European rail transport associations UIC, CER, EIM, UIRR, UNIFE and ERFA.
The study comes as an increasing number of member states are looking towards so-called modular trucks as a potential solution for Europe’s increasing congestion and pollution problems.
Currently, these trucks are outlawed in a majority of member states, where maximum lengths and weights are limited to around 19 metres and 40 tonnes. But Sweden and Finland have authorised them and Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark are considering allowing their use.
While EU law states that member states may allow these longer and heavier trucks to circulate on their territory, so far, it does not allow international transit. Nevertheless, the Commission recently announced that it would launch a study on the value of possible EU-wide circulation, ahead of the publication of its Logistics Action Plan, due before the end of the year (EURACTIV 28/06/06).
Road-transport lobby group IRU argues: “From a business perspective, the modular concept increases efficiency and profitability, as it lowers fuel bills by carrying the same volume of goods with fewer vehicles.” It adds: “From an environmental perspective, it would result in fewer trips, hence less vehicle emissions and reduced congestion.”
But the railway associations say that the introduction of such vehicles would have a reverse effect. “With road transport becoming even less expensive, new transport demand would be generated,” they claim. According to them, this will drive demand away from rail operators, which generate just one fifth of the CO2 emissions generated by road transport, thereby undermining the EU’s goal of cutting emissions by 20% by 2020.
At the same time, they say that allowing mega-trucks will increase the gravity of road accidents and imply costly infrastructure changes as existing roads, bridges, roundabouts and parking areas have to be modified to enable the monster trucks to pass through.
“Encouraging the admission and proliferation of Mega-Trucks on European roads is certainly not compatible with the vision of a more sustainable transport market,” the study concludes.