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CargoBeamer is installing an innovative automated system in Calais that will help speed up the transition from road to rail transport. It will mean an entire train can be loaded in 20 minutes.

© DnA consult

Calais, which plays a key role in freight transport between mainland Europe and the UK, is set to become a benchmark in the combined transport sector. German company CargoBeamer is completing the installation there of an automated truck-train transhipment terminal with a highly innovative design, which from spring 2021 will make it considerably easier to switch from one transport mode to another – a critical phase in the process. 

“Calais is not just an automated combined-transport site, it’s also a gateway between the Continent and the UK, a country which is distancing itself from Europe.”

Usually, semi-trailers are lifted and moved by gantry cranes or reach stackers, mobile cranes that transport containers in ports. With this handling method, says Xavier Perrin, managing director of CargoBeamer France, “it takes up to an hour and a half to load 35 trailers onto a train using two gantries.” Whereas, he adds, “the same job can be done in just 20 minutes with the CargoBeamer system, which no longer involves moving the truck through the air.”   

The principle of the innovative system is based on a pallet (a kind of trough) which is transferred between the platform where the truck is parked and the wagon. The truck positions its trailer on the pallet and once the tractor has been uncoupled, the pallet holding the semi-trailer slides sideways onto the wagon.    

Limiting the footprint

The whole process is automated, making it possible to simultaneously load and unload the same train using the two 360m transshipment tracks, doubled by two other 500m driving lanes. Indeed, one of the advantages of the system, explains Perrin, is that it “limits the footprint.”

The rollout of the new system seeks to achieve a number of things. First, it aims to boost combined rail/road transport, which remains little used in Europe. The expansion of this mode of transport will help ease road traffic congestion, resulting in lower CO2 emissions. According to the German company, “carbon emissions are reduced by the same amount with 35 CargoBeamer trains as with one million electric cars.” 

This could have a significant impact, given that 40% of nitrogen oxide pollution comes from trucks, which only amount to 5% of all European vehicles, says a European Environment Agency report from 2018. “The Calais terminal could handle 12 trains per day within 10 years,” points out Perrin.

Agile project

Calais is crucial to CargoBeamer in that the development of the pilot site will determine the expansion of this type of terminal in Europe. There are already plans to replicate the Calais model in Domodossola near Milan in Italy, Kaldenkirchen near Düsseldorf in Germany and various cities in southern France. 

CargoBeamer used an agile approach for the Calais project, refining the design throughout the development process. The scheme was carried out with the support of Actemium Boulogne-sur-Mer, the VINCI Energies industrial performance business unit which was entrusted with the power supply and distribution aspects of the Calais site.

“Actemium is handling all of the lighting aspects, including the 150 parking spaces for the trucks, the transshipment system, CCTV and security system, which covers thermal imaging cameras to prevent intruders,” says Ludovic Ledoux, project manager at Actemium Boulogne-sur-Mer.

Automated gate system

Extensive work on automation and data usage was also undertaken in relation to the management of the five entry gates. Data recording software, configured by Actemium, identifies a semi-trailer on arrival and allows it to pass through a gate without the need for a third party. A CargoBeamer employee is physically present, however, to take over if need be.

A detailed status of the trailer is also automatically established by video when passing through the gate to document any proof of damage at the end of the process. To do this, Actemium developed a software interface and configured a VMS (Video Management Software) system.

“Security is a key concept in the system,” states Ledoux. “Calais is not just an automated combined-transport site, it’s also a gateway between the Continent and the UK, a country which is distancing itself from Europe.”