I find the disparity between the popularity and public opinion of urban passenger trains and urban freight trains really interesting. The world’s densest urban centres almost all have comprehensive passenger rail systems, and you can almost always get around downtown without a car, or in some places completely without rubber tired motor vehicles.

But freight delivery to urban cores is almost always done by truck, from pickups, vans, to full on tractor trailers, and it seems that it’s the less dense areas that are better served by train for freight shipping.

While there have been some attempts at urban freight rail, like the cargo trams in Germany and Switzerland, it seems that they’re either dead or pretty limited in their capacity or extent of network, usually serving a few facilities at best. Most urban shipping is still done by truck.

Meanwhile, heavy freight rail is usually viewed extremely negatively in urban cores, and extensive effort has been made to remove urban freight corridors or divert them around the downtown. It seems that freight trains are really good at delivering freight to the edge of an urban centre, but then it needs to be shuffled in an intermodal yard onto trucks. And even if it wasn’t, it seems that freight rail, especially in North America, only serves the largest industrial facilities, even when passing through the downtown, so you if you run a grocery store or other small or medium sized business, you can never take advantage of rail and are forced to rely on trucks for your wares. Especially if your business is in a mixed use building with commercial and residential spaces in one, and not a standalone single story department store. This also means you can never have your personal deliveries or mail come by rail.

It’s a problem because the places most favourable to people (read: least favourable to car traffic) can’t take advantage of the efficiency and economies of scale of rail for freight deliveries like they can with passenger rail, and the same bottlenecks on passenger cars these areas have also apply to fright trucks.

One would assume that urban freight rail would have the same benefits over trucks as urban passenger rail has over cars. What are your thoughts on this? Why don’t we see more urban freight rail, and should we be looking into building more urban freight rail?


I think parcel delivery, maybe with an automated storage locker at the tram-station would work well. It just needs a way to quickly unload the packages at the right station so that the tram doesn’t have to wait longer than necessary for the passengers.

Heavier cargo delivery to supermarkets or such is more difficult to solve, especially also because right now the trucks usually drive all the way to the delivery entrance of the market where they can be offloaded with a fork-lift or a similar device. But a relatively slow moving electric truck wouldn’t be such a bad solution I think. It could be built in a way that it can enter places normal cars shouldn’t.

Tremarctos Ornatus

@poVoq @AgreeableLandscape https://carfree.com/freight.html suggests standardised cargo containers on metro; smaller ones could be also transported by tram. Also bigger supermarkets and other stores should be located in the public transport corridors, and can have direct underground service tunnels. Either from metro freight, or even by electric truck if the public transport is bus-based.

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