Overlooked Tram Offers Revolutionary Transportation Solution

May 1, 2008
Amsterdam took an historic step in joining the Green movement when it conducted experiments using its tram system and electric vehicles to move products into the inner city.

Amsterdam-based startup company CityCargo, whose novel entrepreneurial approach is responsible for the pilot project, hopes to reduce the deliveries of the 2,500 trucks that roll into the city daily.

"CityCargo's project is a perfect example of greening enuity, as they saw a logistics and transportation problem and used new ways of solving it that benefit the environment and community," says Tom Bonkenburg, director of European Operations for York, Pa.-based St. Onge Company, which has played an important role working with the startup company.

The inner city distribution system consists of freight trams that will carry goods in and out of the city on existing tram lines, and electrically powered vans ('e-cars').

St. Onge Co., together with its European partner, Buck Consultants International, designed CityCargo's future cross dock center. This building takes freight from a customer and gets it ready to put on the proper tram. Companies can supply these cross docks around the clock by regular freight traffic from other parts of Holland. This could include loading freight into the cargo boxes, storage and sorting of the cargo boxes, staging the cargo boxes for the tram, and then loading or unloading the tram and returning things as required to the customer.

St. Onge Co. is also responsible for developing the high-level concepts for the cargo container and transfer methods to and from the tram and also to and from the electric vehicle.

"The ultimate goal is Green sustainability, reduction of pollution and truck traffic," says Bonkenburg. "We wanted an approach that was efficient and effective for moving goods into the system for an indefinite period without having a negative impact on the environment. By reducing traffic congestion, you immediately reduce pollution, noise levels and have less damage to roads."

Using trams to carry goods into the city also provides awider window for deliveries, according to Bonkenburg. Amsterdam restricts truck traffic during certain hours, but with a tram and e-car combination, the system allows smaller deliveries throughout the day.

A marketing component has already emerged from the experiment. Nuon, the Dutch energy company, sponsored the trams during the experiment and is one of the largest investors in CityCargo. Furthermore many large merchants have already expressed an interest in joining with CityCargo as their "Green" transport partner.

"The lesson learned in this experiment is that a Green solution is not just a catchy slogan riding the tails of popularity. Businesses can actually begin to think differently about solving issues related to our environment," says Bonkenburg. "The impact of new regulations throughout Europe will increase logistics costs and complexity. Businesses will have to meet these challenges within the context of a Green solution. The CityCargo approach is a terrific example."

Bonkenburg says increased logistics costs will continue to rise in the United States, and the CityCargo solution should hearten business leaders with its innovative thinking.

The project will now move deeper into the realization stage, according to Bonkenburg. CityCargo is actively seeking partners and completing details that deal with the final design of the tram, cargo box and electric vehicle design. CityCargo will start off in the first half of 2009 with 10 cargo trams, 40 E-cars and one distribution center. When the project is in full operation (in about five years), it will be 58 cargo trams, 600 E-cars and four distribution centers.

For a video of how the system operates visit:www.citycargo.nl.