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A comparison of North American and European railway systems

Author(s): Uwe Clausen, Robert Voll

Original Paper

European Transport Research Review
September 2013Volume 5, Issue 3, pages 129-133
First online: 14 February 2013



In comparison to North America, railway companies in Europe are confronted with strong economic issues in running their wagonload traffic. The purpose of this paper is an analysis how infrastructural and institutional differences affect planning issues and economic efficiency.


A particular decision problem from railway freight traffic, the Railroad Blocking Problem (RBP), is considered. It is a typical consolidation problem from wagonload traffic, where transport and reclassification costs have to be balanced. A short survey on corresponding optimization models is given. An analysis of the cost structures shows that the share of fix costs in the total transport costs is much higher in Europe than in North America. The objective functions of the models take this into account. They effect that North American models mainly focus on finding short ways for each wagon, while European ones focus on consolidation and high train utilization. The possibility to transfer North American planning concepts to Europe is discussed.


Due to institutional and infrastructural reasons, train capacities and cost structures in North American and European railway freight traffic differ from each other. This results in very centralized railway traffic in Europe. According to the different circumstances, the planning issues differ from each other, too. A direct transfer of decision concepts is not possible.


Although the planning issues strongly differ from each other, Europe can learn a lot from North American railway planning models. The potentials of decentralized traffic in European railway freight traffic should be investigated.


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Keywords: Railway freight traffic Consolidation Mathematical optimization



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