Easyfresh Spain-Netherlands reefer container train set for pilot journey
The first reefer container train carrying fresh produce from Spain into the Netherlands is set to depart next month, with an Easyfresh executive describing the development as "breaking into a market which is traditionally controlled by a lot of shippers".
Fruit and vegetable cargo will be onboard as part of the inaugural pilot journey of the new service called the Easyfresh Express, which is forecast to disrupt the transportation of perishables around Europe.
Set to depart from Valencia on April 25, the reefer container train will be loaded with 45-feet containers with diesel-electric equipment and operated by Frigobreda, one of Easyfresh's four owning partners.
The units match the capacity of the usual reefer trucks which normally carry Spanish fresh produce from the Southeast Iberian Peninsula to all of Europe, according to Frigobreda commercial director, Rainier Wolsleger, who is also the regional manager for Easyfresh Logistics.
“We are breaking into a market which is traditionally controlled by a lot of shippers who also have some interest in trucking companies so not everybody will be happy to see us coming but for us, this is the way forward,” he tells Fresh Fruit Portal.
“The service reduces CO2 enormously if you compare the truck with the train, that is the big advantage, so I foresee more reaction from retail companies who have to be much more aware in this respect and have already made reducing CO2 emissions one of their targets.
“But also those shippers are seeing the world change and I think the whole market has been waiting for somebody to start a service like this. Hopefully they will embrace it as well.”
The route runs through Portbou, Spain, into transport hub Moerdijk, the fourth largest and most inland seaport in the Netherlands, located between Antwerp and Rotterdam and situated close to Frigobreda’s cold store facilities.
Wolsleger says the strategic hotspot of Moerdijk allows cargo to easily reach the U.K., Ireland, Scandinavia, Benelux and Germany.
“In order to be competitive against the road transportation and be active in the transport of fruit and veg we know that speed and shelf life are crucial in this industry. We wanted a dedicated solution which can reach Holland from Spain within 50 hours, in order to compete with the trucking services,” he says.
“Speed and quality is of the essence as well as offering a door-to-door service. We are not only offering railhead to railhead, we are able to deliver the full range of services, including cold storage and pallet distribution.
“It’s not only focused on Holland into Spain and vice versa, but also a lot of onwards possibilities from Holland into the UK and Ireland etc. From Moerdijk there is direct service into London, Newcastle and several other places in the UK. But also we can reach Scandinavia and next to that we also have the possibility to bring the unit into Rotterdam and take up other options from there.”
The reefer container train can handle all types of perishables with a range of chill and freeze solutions.
“All the units have a track and trace system where we monitor them via the internet and adjust temperatures on a remote distance,” adds Wolsleger.
“A 250-litre diesel tank supplies the fuel and we have some safety points along the route to be able to intervene if necessary, although the transit is rather quick and that was absolutely key for us.”
The service - which opens up opportunities for Spanish growers and exporters across a range of produce, as well as offering a carbon-friendly alternative - is expected to be fully operational by the autumn.
“Of course Valencia and Spain are well-known for citrus but there are so many different vegetable varieties coming from the region. Then there is also a large production of melon. We can load all of the different fruit and veg commodities which would require this service.
“On April 18 the trial train goes southbound then it will be in Valencia and then on April 25 it will go northbound being in Moerdijk on the 27. It’s our intention to operate the full service from September or October, twice a week in both directions”.
In terms of the return journey back to Spain, the train could either be loaded with perishables or any other type of non-hazardous cargo that does not necessarily have to be temperature-controlled.
When asked if Brexit could pose any challenges down the line, Wolsleger was philosophical, believing that whatever customs regulations applied to the rail service would be the same for competitors.
“The way I see it, we are in the food industry and people always have to eat. One way or another I doubt if the people of the U.K. will not eat, so in that respect I believe the cargo will always find a way," he says.
“The only measure which could be affected is that customs documents have to be issued but then again that would also be applicable to road transportation. When you compare truck and rail transportation it would be equal from that respect.
“The only change I see for us is that we have to spend some time in order to go through the customs clearance, maybe sanitary clearance if that is applied as well, but everybody will face that - I’m not so afraid of these kinds of things.”