Every year, 4.6 million shipping containers, also known as “twenty-foot equivalent units” or TEUs full of everything from Asian consumer electronics goods to tropical fruits from Africa are unloaded at Hamburg harbor. This represents a huge success story for Germany’s largest port, where only 2.1 such containers arrived in 2000. And all of this business naturally benefits rail traffic. Every day more than 200 freight trains leave Hamburg harbor, which is Europe’s second busiest port.
Nevertheless, when the amount of cargo transported is multiplied by the distance traveled, trucks – not ships – are clearly the Number one means of freight transport in Germany. According to the German Federal Statistical Office, 71 percent of the country’s ton-kilometers were clocked on roads in 2014 and only 17 percent on railways. Moreover, the German Ministry of Transport estimates that truck traffic could rise by another 39 percent between now and 2030. Although rail traffic is expected to grow even faster (43 percent), this will not change the devastating effects on the climate that this increase in freight transport will have. “Between 2020 and 2030, CO2 emissions from freight traffic might even exceed those from cars,” predict the authors of a study conducted by the Agora Verkehrswende initiative, a platform that focuses on the land-based transport of passengers and goods in Germany in a European context.