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Longer, faster and heavier freight trains: Is this the solution for European railways? Findings from a case study

Dewan Md Zahurul Islam (School of Mechanical and Systems Engineering, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK)
Phil N. Mortimer (TruckTrain Developments Ltd, Bognor Regis, UK)

Benchmarking: An International Journal

ISSN: 1463-5771

Article publication date: 2 May 2017




The purpose of this paper is to examine the necessity of longer and/heavier and/or faster freight train operations and their viability in the European context.


Using a case study, the current research applies qualitative methods, including desktop research and informal discussion with the rail freight industry and shippers. The case study is the recently conducted trial of 1.5 km long Marathon freight train in Europe.


The research finds that at this stage there is no commercial necessity of running a 1.5 km long train. There are technical and operational limitations which are less problematic, but the commercial necessity is a must and that will need sufficient traffic volume on a longer route (to justify extra time and cost incurred in marshalling yard and reasonable pre- and post-consolidated rail transport haul). The time required to form up/disperse such large formation could arguably be a major constraint for the train itself as well as for other services run on the same network. The authors agree in principle with the “do more with less” notion and the necessity of faster train concept. Also, the authors are agreeing with the heavier train aspect.

Practical implications

Considering the current and future (more semi-finished and finished, containerised) cargo trend, it is more important that freight train is operated consistently, reliably, and commercially attractive relatively faster and frequent serving moderate distances (around 300+ km). Towards this, the operation of merging two (or more) short trains to form up to 750 m long trains should be explored, in particular on the nine Rail Freight Corridors, to identify the potential and realistic opportunities for commercial deployment of “longer and/or faster and/or and heavier” freight train.

Social implications

At the moment there is no need of a 1.5 km long freight train to improve the performance of EU railways.


The case study provides an important platform for debate on the contemporary notion of “longer”, “faster” and “heavier” freight trains in the European context.



Islam, D.M.Z. and Mortimer, P.N. (2017), "Longer, faster and heavier freight trains: Is this the solution for European railways? Findings from a case study", Benchmarking: An International Journal, Vol. 24 No. 4, pp. 994-1012.



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Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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