PhD Katrien De Langhe (B): What role for rail in urban freight distribution?

Many institutions encourage the use of environment-friendly transport modes. Subsequently, local authorities take increasing measures to prevent negative transport-related externalities in urban areas. Hence, logistics service providers consider alternative ways to deliver goods in urban areas. Which alternative mode is appropriate depends on multiple factors, including the available transport infrastructure, the freight volume, the time of the transport, the measures taken by the authorities and the presence of congestion.

The doctoral thesis by Katrien De Langhe Universiteit Antwerpen (B) focuses on urban freight distribution by rail and the conditions for a successful implementation. The potential success is studied from a financial, economic and a socio-economic perspective for a dedicated freight vehicle, a freight wagon attached to a passenger vehicle and the transport of freight alongside passengers. The government’s viewpoint is adopted. A generic tool is created, by developing a tailor-made social cost-benefit framework and investigating the rail freight product in depth. The generic framework is applied to a case study for the use of a tram in the city of Antwerp.

The main lessons to be learned are twofold. Firstly, the good environmental performance of rail and the presence of congestion on the road network favours the shift from road to rail transport. The interference with passenger traffic, resistance from different stakeholders, initial investment needed and commitment of different stakeholders are disadvantageous for rail transport. Secondly, attaching a freight wagon to a passenger vehicle shows ceteris paribus new innovations, more potential than using a dedicated freight vehicle. This is related to the lower rail operational costs. The transport of freight alongside passengers also reveals some potential, but this is only an option for small quantities of goods.

The doctoral dissertation adds to the existing body of knowledge in several ways. Firstly, the research makes an original contribution to scholarly theory. A unique characteristic of this research is the fact that the framework is developed for an urban rail freight context, and the viewpoint of the government is adopted. The key strength is the development of a generic tool that can easily be applied to different worldwide cases. Secondly, the developed tool provides policy makers the boundaries for an adapted policy towards for example subsidies. The results of this research show the benefits to society of a modal shift from road to rail. Thirdly, the framework helps private actors to understand under which conditions shifting from road to rail can become interesting for them.

The PhD defence by Katrien De Langhe – Faculty of Business and Economics is on September 24, 2019.

Source: Universiteit van Antwerpen

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