Research: a focus on railway shift in urban freight transport

New research stems from the assertion that cities must address the impacts of freight transport to enhance their sustainability by implementing various city logistic measures. One of the key sustainable actions being adopted globally is urban freight distribution through environmentally friendly vehicles, which has shown significant potential to reduce congestion and pollution levels, as evidenced by global assessments.

In this context, this paper explores the use of railways for urban freight transport and examines the potential shift from road to railway systems like trams. This is done using an advanced demand modeling framework, which is specified and calibrated based on survey results from the study area. The potential benefits of introducing urban freight transport through the metro system in Rome, Italy, are then investigated, revealing substantial positive effects in terms of both operational efficiency and external costs.

A pre-feasibility study was conducted to analyze the existing metro system in Rome, including a methodology for forecasting potential demand and delivery routes. Using the current transport system as a baseline, two scenarios were assessed: the existing scenario with a fixed operating pattern for freight vehicles and a designed scenario featuring a multimodal service. In the designed scenario, additional trains for freight operate during off-peak passenger service times, with light goods vehicles used for last-mile delivery.

The study aimed to maximize the use of existing infrastructure and vehicles, assessing the technical feasibility of using the metro for urban freight transport within Rome. The analysis considered realistic implementation potential, incorporating safety margins in the operation time estimates and the sizing of necessary structures. The primary goal was to outline a freight distribution process that closely mirrors real-world conditions.

Initial estimates indicated a significant potential cost reduction, quantified as over 60%, due to the reduction of externalities associated with traditional transport. Additionally, a considerable decrease in vehicles operating within Rome’s limited traffic zone was projected.

In today’s context, where energy efficiency and pollution concerns are increasingly important, demonstrating the feasibility of railways for urban freight delivery could lead to long-term cost savings for freight providers and mitigate environmental impacts. The analysis showed that using the metro for urban freight distribution is feasible and beneficial to the existing transport system.

However, future research should develop a more detailed economic assessment, including a cost-benefit analysis, and forecast potential freight demand using an advanced modeling framework that accounts for various levels of delivery decision-making processes.

Source: Comi, A.; Hriekova, O. A Focus on Railway Shift in Urban Freight Transport: Scenarios and Applications. Future Transp. 20244, 681-696.

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