Urban logistics, supplying and distributing goods are currently the domain of automotive transport. Due to the overcrowded roads and growing air pollution issues, shifting the logistic burden to alternative modes of transport is beginning to be debated. There is a whole range of means of transport being proposed, from electric vehicles to intelligent drones delivering goods. But there is a solution that sounds more realistic – freight trolley cars.
There are many advantages to taking advantage of trolley car tracks for purposes other than passenger transport. It is environmentally friendly and fast, it is not susceptible to traffic jams, and above all, it has access to the very city centre, where car traffic is increasingly limited. The use of freight trolley cars is also reflected in the fact that we have experience with them in the past. In Prague, freight trolley cars were used for garbage disposal at the beginning of the 20th century, and after the Second World War, construction material was delivered to repair of the tracks and sprinkler cars refreshed the streets in the summer months. Transport companies used them for similar purposes in Brno, Ústí nad Labem and Jablonec nad Nisou, while Ostrava also used freight trams up to the 1970s. However, their use has gradually declined. These special cars are now displayed in public transport museum exhibits and orange lubrication trolley cars have become popular with the public in the last two years. It is unique enough to have even a Facebook page with 11,000 followers. It will soon be joined by its friends.
A number of cities are trying to implement freight trolley cars abroad. Many of them have foundered over issues surrounding coordination and overburdened routes, but there are cities where they have proven themselves. For example, a chain of supermarkets named Casino uses them to transport goods in Saint-Etienne, in the east of France. Joël Danard, director of the Efficacity research institute, initiated the TramFret project and said in an interview with the Guardian, “Transporting goods by trolley cars eases traffic, prevents bottlenecks and reduces carbon emissions. Casino praises the economic aspects of the project. It’s a very quick and convenient way to get goods into the city centre – they can almost literally offload their goods directly into the shops. The transport company also appreciates the fact that it can use old cars in this way, which would otherwise be decommissioned. We are also contributing to the circular economy.” The project has been running since this spring; if it is successful, other companies will get involved. Saint-Étienne is not the only city where you can meet freight trams. They also run in Zurich where they are used for collecting sorted waste or in Dresden, where they are used by Volkswagen. In cooperation with the local transport company, it has been transporting parts for producing e-Golf electric car with four special freight trolley cars. Each of them has a capacity of 60 tons, replacing roughly three fully loaded trucks. Could something like that work here?
It seems that it could. Unlike many European cities that have closed down trolley car routes in the past, many Czech cities have very good trolley car service. Prague alone has more than 140 kilometres of routes and will continue to grow in the future. Even today the capital city plans to build almost thirty new tram lines with DPP, three of which in the next five years and the remainder by 2030. In particular, these lines will be expanded to housing estates, where they will replace overloaded bus transport and connect them with the centre and to other estates. In addition to improving passenger transport, utilizing them for freight is also planned. This year, the Prague City Cargo project was launched, involving DPP, Prague Services, CTU and Huawei. The first step is to develop a model of a freight trolley car that can carry municipal waste during the night hours when there is low ridership. At the same time, the network of automated waste depots, container filling stations and all logistics related to the transition of rolling stock containers and their transport to the incineration plant are being started. Garbage trolley cars could be launched around 2020 for the first time.