21.02.2023 - Magazine

Rail freight transport: Transport of rail freight

Rail freight transport is considered one of the most environmentally friendly and efficient methods of transporting goods. Trade between Europe and Asia via rail in particular is growing consistently. At the centre of this is the new Silk Road, which creates a direct connection between China and Europe and thus significantly strengthens logistics for companies. A comprehensive look at freight transport by rail can therefore definitely pay off.

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Rail freight: transport by rail for an efficient and environmentally friendly solution

In the modern global market, rail freight transport has developed into an important pillar of the transport system. Compared to road transport or sea freight, it is often not only higher-capacity and faster, but also scores with environmentally friendly aspects. Moreover, rail freight is an excellent solution for the transport of heavy and bulky goods, as it has a high carrying capacity and guarantees reliable, punctual delivery. But how exactly is rail freight transport actually defined? And isn’t rail freight the same as rail freight?

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Rail freight transport and rail freight: definition and development

Basically, rail freight transport comprises the transport of goods of any kind by rail. The goods transported on the rail network are then referred to as rail freight. Thus, the term “rail freight” refers to the goods themselves, while “rail freight transport” describes the entire process of transport by rail. In recent years, the importance of rail transport has increased worldwide and there has been a significant expansion of the network. This is also due to the fact that a wide range of goods can be transported by rail.

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Transporting goods by rail: almost limitless possibilities

There are many different types of goods that can be transported by rail freight. These include, among others:

  • Raw materials such as coal, iron ore, copper and other metals
  • Chemicals and liquid dangerous goods such as oil, petrol and acids
  • Agricultural products such as grain, corn and soybeans
  • Automobiles and heavy machinery
  • Consumer goods such as electronics, textiles and food
  • Containers – loaded with various goods

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Each commodity has its own challenges when transported by rail freight. Raw materials such as coal and ore, for example, require special wagons and loading equipment to be transported safely. Special precautions must be observed for the rail transport of chemicals and liquid hazardous goods to avoid possible spills or leaks. Agricultural products such as grain and soybeans are sensitive to moisture and therefore require careful, dry storage.

Automobiles and heavy machinery, on the other hand, require special wagons with lifting devices to be loaded and unloaded safely. And container traffic – like the other goods – requires good coordination and organisation to ensure punctual loading and final loading. The costs for rail freight vary according to the different conditions for the freight.

Rail freight transport: costs for rail freight

The cost of rail freight varies depending on the type of freight, the route length and the transport service provider. As a rule, costs in rail freight transport are therefore made up of the following factors:

  1. Transport costs:
    These are the direct costs of transporting the freight, such as the cost of using the rail line, the cost of loading and unloading the freight, and the cost of transporting it by rail.
  2. Packing and handling costs:
    These are the costs of packing the freight and the costs of loading and unloading the freight.
  3. Value Added Services:
    In addition to transport, further services (value added services) can be provided, such as customs clearance, storage and/or distribution to the POS. The demand determines the costs here.
  4. Fees and charges:
    These include charges such as station fees, rail fees and other charges that may vary depending on the route and countries.
  5. Administrative costs:
    These are the costs for the administration of the transport, e.g. the costs for planning, booking and monitoring the transport.
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Both the competitive situation and market demand can influence the cost of rail freight. It is therefore important that the costs for rail freight are always calculated individually. As an experienced logistics service provider and freight forwarder, Huettemann provides support here in designing the best possible transport option. Huettemann specialises in particular in transports to and from China and in Eastern Europe. The headquarters in Duisburg at the “end” of the new Silk Road provides the direct link. As a founding member of the New Silk Network, Huettemann was also instrumental in getting the new Silk Road off the ground.
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The new Silk Road and rail transport to and from China

With the new Silk Road, rail transport of goods between China and Europe has continued to grow. And in the future, rail freight transport between China and Europe is expected to continue to grow. Both the increasing demand for fast and environmentally friendly transport options and the growing trade relations between China and Europe are the driving forces behind this. Germany’s logistics companies also play an important role here, as Germany is a key transit country for freight traffic between China and Europe. Thus, by developing efficient transport networks and optimising logistics processes, German logistics companies like Huettemann can contribute to increasing the competitiveness of rail freight transport between China and Europe.

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Advantages of rail transport via the new Silk Road

Rail transport via the new Silk Road offers some advantages that also apply to rail freight beyond. Here are the advantages at a glance:

  1. Time savings: Rail transport is generally faster than road or sea freight, especially over long distances. Only air freight is faster, but much more expensive.
  2. Capacity: Rail transport has a higher capacity than road transport and can therefore transport larger quantities of goods.
  3. Environmental friendliness: Rail freight is generally more environmentally friendly than road or sea transport, as it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions per tonne and kilometre.
  4. Cost-efficiency: Rail transport is usually cost-efficient because a large quantity of goods can be transported over long distances.
  5. Reliability: Rail transport is generally very safe, as almost no breakdowns are to be expected due to accidents, weather conditions, traffic jams or similar.

However, it is important to note that freight transport often involves a combination of different means of transport logistics, such as ships, trucks and rail, which may be the best choice depending on the cargo and destination. As a lead logistics provider, Huettemann therefore develops individual transport concepts that efficiently meet all customer needs.

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Rail transport and more from Huettemann

As a freight forwarding and logistics service provider, Huettemann offers its customers a wide range of advantages in the execution of international rail transports. Intermodality – the possibility of transporting goods by rail as well as by truck or ship – plays an important role here. As a lead logistics provider, Huettemann can thus make optimal use of the advantages of the different modes of transport in order to transport goods efficiently for customers. The extensive network of partners and agents forms an important basis for the safe implementation of the transports – from collection, loading, transport, customs clearance and storage to delivery to the destination.

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In the Huettemann Group we bundle our extensive service portfolio for one goal: to find the perfect, customised logistics solution for you. In addition to our global transport and warehouse services, we offer you numerous logistics services along the entire supply chain. In this way, we develop logistics concepts with added value that suit you.


Competent, diverse, high-performance and future-oriented: As a family-run international logistics company with headquarters in Duisburg, we have been turning our passion into a profession for more than 65 years and today, more than ever, we stand for customised logistics solutions along the entire supply chain.


Every industry has its own logistical requirements. As a broadly positioned logistics company, we adapt to the goods flows and wishes of our customers. We go one step further: we become an integral part of your process chain.