Port of Rotterdam welcomes Noah’s Train: longest mobile artwork in support of more rail transport

11 September 2019
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With Noah’s Train, Rail Freight Forward – a coalition of Europe’s leading railway companies – aims to turn the spotlight on climate-friendly rail freight transport. The train, which was created by renowned street artists, is the longest mobile work of art in the world, and it will be making a stop at the port of Rotterdam in October. “Graffiti and the railways used to be at odds with each other. Now we’ve joined forces to raise awareness about modern and sustainable freight transport solutions and to make a real contribution to climate protection and social responsibility.”

Port of Rotterdam welcomes Noah’s Train: longest mobile artwork in support of more rail transport

Rail freight transport produces up to 9 times less CO2 than road haulage. The Rail Freight Forward coalition’s goal is to increase the railway’s share in freight transport from its current level of 18% to 30% by 2030. “This is an absolute necessity,” says Michael Winter, who is one of the creative minds behind the initiative and Head of Marketing and Communication at Rail Cargo Austria, one of the 5 founding members of Rail Freight Forward. “We already know that freight transport in Europe is expected to see rapid growth in the years ahead. An extra 1 million trucks will be required to handle these increased volumes over the next decade. Just imagine it – a million trucks backed up as far as the eye can see. And that on Europe’s already heavily congested roads. Rail Freight Forward is putting the spotlight on the climate-friendly railways, both in the industrial sector and in the public consciousness, because both of these groups are equally affected. “As a coalition, we are working ceaselessly to make rail freight transport even more modern, multimodal and, above all, more attractive. This is the only way we can generate economic growth and at the same time make a significant contribution to reaching the climate goals we have set ourselves.”

Need for new connections

Matthijs van Doorn, Director of Logistics at the Port of Rotterdam Authority, applauds the coalition’s initiative. “We need new connections with the hinterland to facilitate the strong growth of the container sector in the port of Rotterdam. We can see an increase in road transport, and according to prognoses, even more trucks will be added in the future. If we don’t do something, the Netherlands will grind to a halt. We need an alternative – and rail transport has the answer. Rail transport produces relatively few pollutants, consumes less energy and leads to fewer accidents. Fluctuating water levels are unpredictable, which puts pressure on freight transport via inland shipping. This makes rail transport is a very viable alternative. The Port of Rotterdam is a key logistics hub that connects the continent with the rest of the world – and we need to guarantee optimal connections at all times.”

Michael Winter raises further points in the road versus rail debate that highlight the importance of the modal shift: “Rail freight transport costs society around twelve times less than road haulage. A consistent shift from road to rail transport leads to 85 times fewer fatalities and injuries on the roads. What is more, over 40,000 air-pollution related premature deaths could be avoided by reinforcing rail freight transport.” With the aim of reaching both industry and the general public with this message, Rail Freight Forward has been touring Europe with Noah’s Train for almost a year now.

Noah's Train

Michael Winter states: “At the beginning, we ‘just’ wanted to make stops in the member countries’ capital cities, but, to our delight, Noah’s Train was invited to come to countless other European countries and cities in order to support this important cause. In every one of these cities, two more containers were designed by local street artists and added to Noah’s Train. This is how it grew to become the longest mobile work of art in the world. At first, railway companies were not overly enthused by the idea of working with graffiti artists. However the modal shift has also brought a mental shift for everyone connected to Rail Freight Forward. Every single one of us are convinced that we can only achieve our goal if we in the rail sector work with each other and with other big players in the industry. Little by little, we can break down boundaries when we work together in sincerity. The art works draw inspiration from what may well be the very first story about environmental protection: the story of Noah, who built an ark and saved countless animals from the Great Flood.”

The sector is changing and innovating

The members of Rail Freight Forward are working together to further improve the sector. As Michael Winter explains: “The rail sector is faced with quite a few challenges. Technical regulations, safety requirements and labour legislation differ from one country to the next. It would save a lot of time and money if these issues were standardised and agreed upon. On top of this, the planning process, the marshalling of rail wagons in hubs and the connections to other modalities are all complex affairs. But we also need more tracks. That’s why we are also in talks with railway companies, infrastructure managers and policymakers.”

What makes this special is that the Rail Freight Forward initiative emerges from the sector itself, says Matthijs van Doorn. “The coalition members are actually each other’s competitors. Through this collaboration, they’re showing the market and other sectors that they want to work together to promote sustainability. Cooperating with each other is the best way to make the supply chain more productive.”

Rail Freight Forward also wants to show that this is a changing sector, Michael Winter continues. “Rail freight transport may still conjure up memories of grey, weathered containers, a lot of noise and inactivity. But over the past few years, rail operators have made great strides in the fields of digitalisation and sustainable innovation. The Rail Cargo Group, for example, has launched a product that revolutionises the freight wagon market: TransANT. Ultramodern, lightweight steel framework construction conventionally used in the automobile industry has taken on railway proportions. On account of its special framework, constructing TransANT wagons requires much less steel. What is more, the loadable superstructures can be changed out as and when needed. But this is just one of the many exciting developments taking place in rail freight right now.”

Noah's Train

Connecting journey between climate conferences

Back to Noah’s Train, which will be pulling into the port of Rotterdam on 11th October. Matthijs van Doorn elaborates: “This marks the end of the Train’s journey through Europe, after which it’s ready for the next step. The containers will be transferred at the APM Terminals Maasvlakte II and shipped by deep-sea vessel to Chile. As such, the train will be making another symbolic voyage that links the United Nations’ two climate conferences. In 2018, the train left the city of Katowice in Poland. From Rotterdam, the containers will proceed to Santiago de Chile, which will be hosting the new climate conference from 2nd December.’

In Rotterdam, the final container will be painted by the Rotterdam street artist Nina Valkhoff. Michael Winter states: “We are very grateful to the artists for their involvement and their contributions. We tremendously appreciate their decision to embrace our message and help us spread it. If we want to achieve the climate goals, we need to cross borders – both literally and figuratively – and work together. Which is also why we are – literally – over the moon that the Port of Rotterdam Authority is one of our partners! The Port of Rotterdam is where everything comes together: trains, ships, terminals, handling and storage. And we share the same vision: to do our very best to protect the climate by means of intelligent and sustainable logistics solutions, just like we are doing with the Port of Rotterdam.”