An Exploration of the Potential Feasibility of a Freight Tram Scheme in Barcelona

An Exploration of the Potential Feasibility of a Freight Tram Scheme in Barcelona


R Regue Grino, University of California, USA; A L Bristow, Loughborough University, UK


This paper reports the findings of a scoping study exploring the feasibility a freight tram scheme in Barcelona. This includes original survey work and a cost benefit analysis of three potential freight tram scenarios.


This paper reports the findings of a scoping study (Regue Grino, 2010) exploring the feasibility a freight tram scheme in Barcelona. Key issues affecting Barcelona, in common with other cities, are the high levels of NOx (arising due to the high proportion of diesel vehicles), congestion on the main arterials; increasing numbers of commercial vehicle trips into the city and an increasing acknowledgement of the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Here we examine the extent to which a freight tram scheme based largely on existing infrastructure could have a role in mitigating such effects.

The paper briefly reviews key issues in urban freight distribution and identifies different attempts, through innovative solutions involving rail infrastructure, to improve urban freight deliveries. The context of Barcelona is then examined with an assessment of the potential of the current tram system for urban freight distribution. A planned extension (now on hold) to the existing tram system would increase flexibility and would enable such a system to service a number of shopping centres.

Two surveys were undertaken to inform the design and analysis of the tram scenarios. Firstly, a face to face interview survey was conducted with 51 retail establishments in three shopping centres: Diagonal Mar, Pedralbes Centre and L'Illa Diagonal in July 2010. These are all located near to the tram infrastructure, along Avinguda Diagonal, enabling the survey to explore attitudes towards and the acceptability of a range of scheme features including: night deliveries, willingness to accept cost increases if both pollution and congestion are reduced, and various combinations of day and night tram deliveries with different final delivery systems (electric and standard vans) and whether urban consolidation centres (UCC) are in place. Secondly, vehicle counts were carried out to explore delivery patterns among the shopping centres and validate survey findings.

Three different tram scenarios were developed for detailed investigation: scenario 1 for deliveries only, scenario 2 for waste collection only and scenario 3 involving both deliveries and waste collection. Cost benefit analysis was carried out based on the best available public domain information and with clearly specified assumptions.

Costs included in the analysis are: freight tram operation, infrastructure, rolling stock equipment and rental and operation of urban consolidation centres (UCCs) for the scenarios involving deliveries. In terms of benefits, air pollution, other externalities such as accidents, noise, road maintenance and congestion and operational savings have been considered for all scenarios. For those scenarios involving deliveries, value added activities undertaken in UCCs, reduction of stockholding facilities and reverse logistics are also included as benefits. The main cost component in all scenarios is the initial investment required, including new infrastructure and rolling stock equipment.

In general terms, annual costs and benefits are broadly equivalent each other in scenario 1, the main benefit in terms of the value added activities that are undertaken in the UCC being offset by the operation and rental costs of the UCC. In scenario 2, annual benefits in terms of savings in current waste collection operation costs outweigh the annual cost of the waste tram operation.

Scenario 1, involving freight tram deliveries only, has a negative Net Present Value (NPV). It is also clear that complex relationships would need to be established between the different stakeholders involved. However, important environmental benefits could be achieved such as the reduction of 247 tonnes a year of CO2. Sensitivity tests indicate that a 10% increase in UCC productivity could yield a 25% improvement in the NPV, which can make the project more attractive since productivity improvements may be expected. The second scenario of waste collection only appears to be feasible under the assumptions used, yielding a positive NPV. However, there are technical issues to be addressed in the implementation of such a scheme. A combined scheme seems feasible, with positive NPV and a total CO2 reduction of 329.1 tonnes a year, but the difficulties commented above would still remain.

In conclusion freight tram operation appears to have the potential to yield net benefits in cities with existing tram networks. However, to date the only successful examples are those with single customers suggesting that organisational challenges may pose the largest barrier to implementation.

Regue Grino R. (2010) An investigation of the feasibility of implementing a freight tram scheme in Barcelona, MSc Dissertation, Loughborough University.


Association for European Transport