The first rail service to carry fresh produce in reefer containers from the south of Europe to the north of the continent has reportedly made the journey in 48 hours, trimming the alternative seafreight journey by several days.
The new service ran for the first time from the port of Koper in Slovenia to Rotterdam in the Netherlands as a trial on Saturday 5 March.
It delivered oranges, mandarins, grapefruit and potatoes from Israel to receivers in the Rotterdam port area, before the produce was then forwarded on to clients elsewhere in northern Europe.
Eurofruit understands that exporters in Israel and Egypt would usually factor in a journey time of around eight days when shipping their produce to Rotterdam by sea.
The so-called block train or unit train is said to be the first of its kind, loaded solely with reefer containers, to take fresh fruit and vegetables from the south of Europe to a destination in the north of the continent.
“It was the first trial to check all factors from origin country to final destination, including containers with gen sets on the train,” explained Milena Jerman of port handling services group Luka Koper.
The train forms part of an EU project called Fresh Food Corridors (FFC), which Koper’s port officials see dovetailing well with their ‘motorways of the sea’ concept to attract exporters in the Middle East, North Africa and countries further east, and connect them with key European markets.
Getting a rail service of this kind up and running has apparently not been easy.
Attracting sufficient cargo volumes and keeping transport costs down to a sustainable level have been significant challenges, as is finding the right technical solutions to guarantee adequate temperature conditions for the goods in transit.
In the coming months, the train’s operators will focus on shortening the transit time and filling its containers on return journeys, before making a final decision on the service’s viability.
As part of the FFC project, similar trial trains are expected to start running via the ports of Venice and Marseille-Fos.