The global market for conditioned transport – predominantly conducted in refrigerated containers (‘reefers’) – grows rapidly. Due to the energy usage for continuous cargo cooling, the climate impact of cold logistics chains is substantial and still increasing.
In addressing climate concerns, governments have committed themselves to a ‘modal shift’ of freight transport from road to more sustainable modes such as rail transport. Concerns including road congestion and shortages in the trucking sector provide an additional impetus for a modal shift. The perishables sector, however, is almost entirely reliant on trucking. The authors address the question what is necessary for rail transportation of reefer containers to become a viable option to stakeholders in the cold chain.
This study surveys the existing options for a modal shift of perishables transport to rail. A major finding is that there is no established option yet to connect reefers to an energy supply from the catenary: most existing options rely on some form of diesel-electric generator to power the reefers. Furthermore, the authors conducted interviews with a wide range of cold chain stakeholders on their considerations regarding modal shift. Disadvantages of rail transport include the absence of a ‘plug and play’ option to power reefer containers, and the perception the current rail services do not offer the desired speed, reliability, and flexibility. While the authors also observed that new rail logistics concepts are viewed favorably, options besides trucking are simply not considered in current decision-making. Hence, a modal shift also requires a ‘mental shift’ within the sector.