The increase in international rail freight has raised implications for security and taxation considerations as goods pass across international borders, says Andrew Goldsmith
Intermodal freight volumes have been growing over the last decade as Europe imports more and more of its consumer goods from Asia. This has facilitated the integration of rail into logistic chains and has helped rail to benefit from the dynamic growth of container-based sea traffic between the continents. This intermodal network is becoming a more fluid and efficient system of delivering cargo around the world.
UK forecasts show the potential to double tonnes carried by 2030 including a fivefold increase in container rail freight, according to RFG (Rail Freight Group) and FTA (Freight Transport Association). This pattern is reflected across Europe, which means that high-throughput screening solutions are becoming an increasing priority for customs teams around the world.
There are other reasons to scan rail freight too – terrorism or sabotage could have a significant economic impact, and rail cargo, as well as the infrastructure, is a target for criminals and terrorists. The ability for rail operators and security organisations to quickly assess rail cargo is vital to protecting rail infrastructure. The fastest and most effective method is X-ray scanning with the detection of dangerous and illegal cargo a priority – tax revenues can be securitised and consumers protected by the seizure of contraband such as narcotics and weapons.
New developments within the world of X-ray inspection have now enabled the effective screening of rail cargo to become not only possible, but highly effective.
Manufacturers are developing solutions that focus on enhanced inspection capabilities and increased operational effectiveness in order to make high speed scanning a reality. One of the key challenges of developing a rail inspection system is the variation in operation modes, meaning there can be requirements to scan single or multiple tracks, trains going in one or either direction, various types of cargo – some needing to be scanned, others not – and different speeds of the train at the point of inspection. Rail scanning systems are not ‘off the shelf’ products.
Another key requirement for rail scanning systems is for them to be fully automated operationally, with no associated personnel required to physically operate the system on site, reducing both the manning and associated infrastructure costs, and meeting health and safety requirements. Communications technology means that the resulting X-ray image analysis can be performed by image inspectors, either within a nearby inspection office, or at a securely networked remote inspection location anywhere in the country.
Sophisticated operational and safety systems guarantee the solution is both secure and safe for the train drivers and crew. An array of failsafe systems and processes ensure that only confirmed and verified cargo, such as freight containers, are scanned by the system.
This kind of technology is already in action within Europe, with technology in operation that is capable of scanning rail containers moving at 60 kilometres per hour.
Images are obtained when the train’s cargo moves through the system between the X-ray generator on one side of the track and the X-ray detector array on the opposite side, generating a high quality X-ray of a 40-foot shipping container in 0.8 of a second, enabling the scanning of hundreds of thousands of containers a year without slowing the flow of commerce. By electronically linking the cargo manifest and container number against the relevant X-ray image, tracking and analysis becomes efficient and effective.
So far, the UK has not introduced a comparable X-ray system, but security concerns may soon see such systems implemented here. The ability for rail operators and security organisations to assess rail cargo quickly is vital to protecting rail infrastructure and the global supply chain, as increasing amounts of UK freight are bound for mainline Europe via the Channel Tunnel.
Andrew Goldsmith is vice president of global marketing at Rapiscan Systems: www.rapiscansystems.com