CargoTram – Taking Commercial Trucks Off the Road. Is TransLink planning for the future? Can TransLink plan for the future?


1 Cargotram

What local transit planners have not done in the Vancouver region is take into account the versatility of modern light rail with their strategic planning and always plan for LRT as a poorman’s SkyTrain. In many cities, trams pull small trailers to carry bicycles or specialized cars to carry rubbish from refuse bins along the line, adding to the versatility of light rail.

The importance of BC Electric’s Interurban lines, was not primarily to carry passengers, but to carry freight in standard freight cars, specially built freight motors or combines, which carried freight and passengers. With few exceptions, by the 1960’s most tram/LRT lines abandoned the concept of carrying freight and concentrated on passenger only service.

The Cargo Tram in Dresden Germany has reversed this trend by successfully operating cargo or freight (in containers) on tram bodies, using existing tramways.

The idea of building an automobile glass factory for Volkswagen in Dresden arose in 1997. On 3 March 2000 the Dresden Public Transport Co. (DVB) and the Volkswagen Automobile-Manufaktur Dresden GmbH (VW Car-Manufacture Dresden Ltd.) signed a contract for the CarGoTram. Movement of parts from the logistics center in Dresden Friedrichstadt to the new factory would be managed using a tram running over the cities tram or streetcar lines. The route from the logistics center to the new glass factory runs straight through the inner city of Dresden so use of trucks would cause a large increase in truck traffic within the city.

Two CarGoTrams were built by the Schalker Eisenhütte Maschinenfabrik GmbH Gelsenkirch, costing about $5.25 million per vehicle. The DVB AG is responsible for the transportation and security of the freight.

The freight tram was introduced officially in Dresden on 16 November 2000 and had its first test run on 3 January 2001.


Despite it looks, the Cargo Tram is not an articulated vehicle, but a bidirectional vehicle consisting of 5 close coupled segments. The standard formation is three freight units and two combination freight/control units. The control cars have less capacity (7500 kg) than the middle cars (15000 kg), because of space devoted to the driver’s cab. Total capacity is the equivalent of three motor trucks (214 m³).

Running gear for the tram was recycled overhauled parts from out-of-service Tatra trams. The bodies were newly built.

All axles of the control car as well as the middle cars are driven.

If one introduces the concept of Cargo Tram in the Vancouver METRO area, especially from Vancouver to the Valley and to UBC, one must factor in cost savings (road damage, fuel savings, etc.) of operating trucks over a 20 to 25 year period. If the proposed BCIT to UBC LRT project included cargo trams into its planning, then by building with light rail, it would reduce commercial truck traffic and it’s associated  cancer causing diesel particulate pollution, along Broadway and 41st Avenues, with no great added cost over a 20 to 25 year period! Imagine, UBC, operating a commercial transfer point in Burnaby and containers for UBC loaded onto specially built trams to be taken to UBC at regular intervals with no delay in service.

cargo 3

For the Valley Interurban, cargo carrying trams are a no brainer as Canada post and many courier companies could take advantage of a dedicated cargo service for reliable deliver up the Fraser Valley. If the Southern Railway of BC, were to operate the interurban service, they may take the concept of cargo tram to the next level and operate container carrying trams instead of a heavy-rail freight service as they currently operate.

The concept of cargo carrying trams clearly demonstrates the advantages of light rail in its various forms; the ability to be flexible in operation and the ability to move with the times, while its inflexible cousin, SkyTrain (light-metro) can’t. This is important, the government advised by planning bureaucrats are going to invest many billions of dollars in regional transit, unfortunately to date, TransLink can’t seem to think out of a very dated, circa 1960’s box.


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One Response to “CargoTram – Taking Commercial Trucks Off the Road. Is TransLink planning for the future? Can TransLink plan for the future?”

  1. Jason Says:

    It’s an intriguing concept that I’ve often thought about when envisioning light rail lines in various parts of Metro Vancouver. Having small freight depots along the Interurban line operated by the rail operator seems like a no brainer especially when you consider the idea of Canada Post using the service for distribution from the main postal depot in Vancouver. There is a tunnel that runs from the main postal depot to Waterfront station, the original purpose of the tunnel was to transfer mail to/from trains for cross-country distribution. CargoTrams could load mail at Waterfront and then travel to the valley via either the CP line along Barnet or travel along the CN/BNSF corridor to New West and from there into the Valley.

    A variation of the idea is to use CargoTrams for local deliveries to businesses along a light rail line, but there are challenges that I’m not sure what the best solution would be.

    An example would be the Scott Road corridor between Surrey and Delta. I grew up in the area and always thought a light rail line running down Scott Road from Highway 10 to 99th Avenue where it would join the Interurban line and travel to either Scott Road station or continue across the Fraser River into New West would be a preferred solution to increasing vehicle traffic on the corridor.

    Now ignoring considerations such as ridership levels, et cetera, would CargoTram service be feasible in such a scenario? There are several large businesses along the corridor that receive multiple truck deliveries per day including London Drugs, 2 Save-On-Foods, 2 Safeways, a Real Canadian Superstore, Home Depot, Canadian Tire, and Zellars, not to mention numerious small and medium sized businesses. Could these be served by CargoTrams? If so, would delivery be restricted to overnight hours? Would it require sidings into each business or could self propelled cargo modules be used?

    Of course, until we get some innovative leadership on the transportation front, we’ll be lucky to get the Interurban running as a demo project let alone any real LRT service anywhere in Metro Vancouver.

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