Rail Transport of Reefer Containers
Technical characteristics of modern refrigerated containers are such that they allow you to maintain the temperature of goods in the range of -25 to +25 degrees Celsius. This temperature range allows you to transport virtually any goods requiring special temperature conditions. The main assortment of the so-called "cold goods" consists of food. Such as fruits, vegetables, dairy and meat products, frozen foods, frozen and chilled meat, fish, and seafood. In the same category there are medicines, alcoholic beverages and soft drinks, particularly in the time of severe frost or, vice versa, summer heat. In the refrigerated container they also transport several chemicals that are sensitive to cold or, vice versa, to overheating.
The refrigerated container is primarily a means of multimodal transport. This is its main purpose. Therefore, on a par with the universal containers it is fully applicable to the transport of not only by sea, but also by road and rail.
Transportation of refrigerated containers by rail, on the one hand, is a natural extension of sea container transport and a link of multi-modal transport. On the other hand, it may be independent transport without going to the sea. In any case, the transportation of specialized containers, including refrigerated containers by rail has a number of features as compared to transport by road and transportation of universal containers.
Transport of refrigerated containers with a connection to a power source while driving, are not widely available for the railways of 1435 mm. At least, for now. On the one hand, the rate of container trains and the distance traveled by them allow you to transport refrigerated containers in a thermos mode without much risk. Connection of the container at the departure terminal enables to reach the desired temperature, and for those two, maximum three days, that the container is carried by rail, there is no critical temperature change in it. At the arrival terminal the container is reconnected to the power supply. On the other hand, the number of legal norms does not allow the use on EU railways of any autonomous units to supply several containers with electricity at the same time. This is not least due to the need to store and move the fuel tank together. Despite the fact that there are self-contained diesel generator units, manufactured in the dimensions of ISO-containers, for safety reasons they are not allowed for the use on EU railways.
The use of non-autonomous generators, i.e., diesel generator units, serviced and maintained by people, is not less difficult. Firstly, the extremely high cost of labor in the EU makes such shipments unprofitable. Secondly, it requires specialized carriages both equipped with diesel generators, and allowing you to carry the maintaining staff. There are no such carriages on the road network of 1435 mm.
Another affordable way of transportation refrigerated containers by rail in Europe is the transport using GenSets - mounted stand-alone diesel generators. It is a universal tool that is used on vehicles as well as on the railway. Generator’s capacity and fuel tank allow this unit to supply one container with power for a few days.
Technology of Refrigerated Containers Transport by 1520 mm Rail
Transportation using GenSets cannot be applied in the countries with a broad gauge at all. Transport distances up to several thousand kilometers and lower trains speed compared to the EU make it practically impossible to transport containers without connecting to a power source. Transportation from the ports of the Baltic Sea to the countries of Central Asia, or transportation from the Far East to Central Russia may take up to two weeks or more. During such a period none container can keep a predetermined temperature without connection to the power source.
Using GenSets is complicated by distance too, they have too small amount of fuel and they are too attractive to thieves.
This is a practical side of the issue. There is still a legal side. Perishable goods should be transported accompanied by consignor’s or consignee’s guard. It is required by Application 4 (regulations for the transport of perishable goods) to the SMGS (Agreement on International Goods Transport by Rail – the normative document regulating the basic operation principles of railways of countries participating in the agreement), on the basis of which the railroad accepts the goods for transport. Therefore, in countries with a track of 1520 mm the block trains are used for transportation of refrigerated containers.
Refrigerated Block Train
The composition of the block train includes the diesel generator car and specially equipped platforms. The diesel generator car is a caboose, which houses a diesel power plant, the capacity of which can power up to 18 refrigerated containers, the fuel tank ensuring smooth operation of the power plant for a few weeks. Half of this car is a living space, which houses a team of two mechanics servicing generator’s equipment and monitoring the work of the containers.
Flatcars for the transport of refrigerated containers are equipped with power lines and outlets for connection. The diesel generator car and several (usually 6 - 12 pcs.) platforms are connected together electrically and mechanically using intercar cables to form a single circuit. Containers are mounted on platforms and connected to power outlets. Thus, the container on the entire route remains connected to the power source and maintains the temperature of the cargo as well as it would support it being on board the vessel or at the terminal.
In general, the rail transport of refrigerated containers for today is a common way of transportation of perishable goods. If in the 90s it was quite an exotic mode, today it promotes design and construction of special platforms, development of terminals infrastructure and enhancement of the regulatory framework. With the acquisition of experience by market participants and dissemination of information on this method of transport, the nomenclature of transported goods is growing. Due to extensive network of railways, reefer shipping becomes possible in the vast areas - from the ports of the Russian Arctic to Afghanistan, Mongolia and China, from Vladivostok and Nakhodka to Brest and Kaliningrad, and if necessary, to Western Europe.