France is reviving the old American "piggyback" scheme to reduce roadway truck traffic by putting heavy goods vehicles and/or trailers on flat cars attached to dedicated trains.
From the 1950s into the 1980s, piggyback enjoyed some success, but by the 1990s it had been eclipsed by shipping containers.
On closing the piggyback operation in 1990, a Norfolk Southern spokesman said in 1990: "You need a big terminal and a big crane to lift the trailers onto the railroad, Railroads are looking to double-stack containers because they carry more than piggybacked trailers on flatcars."
The first French project, the Auto route Ferroviaire Atlantique (AFA), will introduce a service operated by SNCF Geodis between Lille, in Northern France and Bayonne, close to the Spanish border.
Scheduled to enter service in early-2016, the AFA project is expected to attract EUR400 million (US$539 million) in investment, including EUR300 million for infrastructure work and EUR100 million to finance the acquisition of 278 wagons, Lloyd's Loading List reports.
The second project involves the development of an intersecting service from Calais to an existing railway from Luxembourg, which runs 1,000 kilometres to Le Boulou, near Perpignan, at the foot of the French Pyrenees. It is operated by SNCF Geodis' subsidiary, Lorry Rail.
The railway from Calais will also offer a long-distance intermodal solution, catering to traffic from Northern Europe, the UK and Northern France, heading for Spain.
SNCF Geodis has placed a EUR39 million order for 105 rail wagons to be used to run the service that is slated to begin in early 2015.
"These two railways illustrate the government's resolve to re-launch rail freight and piggy-backing through the development of innovative services," said French Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier.
With its four daily round-trips, the Luxembourg-Perpignan railway last year handled 56,000 HGVs/semi-trailers. In the first half of 2013 traffic rose by nine per cent compared to the first six months of 2012.