Green Rail – Rail Transport of Flowers Between the Netherlands and Italy

Context of Transport Climate Action

Fresh flowers are highly perishable and are currently only transported by road transport. In Green Rail, a trade route by rail between the Netherlands and Italy has been developed.

The use of multimodal transport (rail freight or barge) aims to increase the efficiency of transport, resulting in more sustainable transport and cost reductions from improved economies of scale.

However, the use of multimodal transport is not widely used for the transport of perishable goods, such as fruit, vegetables or floricultural products. Due to the nature of these products, it is essential to get them to market as quickly as possible and multimodal transport is usually considered to be too slow and unreliable.

In order to gain experience with multimodal transport of perishables, the Green Rail project has set up a rail freight pilot project for the transport of floricultural products.


FloraHolland (cooperative of growers) , VGB (industry association of the horticulture exporters) and several floriculture exporters started working with the Green Rail projects in 2008 (there were 3 projects in total). In these projects, floricultural goods are transported by rail from the Netherlands to several destinations in Europe using containers that can control the temperature for at least 10 consecutive days.

The pilot projects focused on transport from the Netherlands to the following destinations: Italy, Hungary, Romania, Poland, and Spain. Initially, the floricultural transport used the existing rail services.

Based on the results of the Green Rail project, a commercial service was set up for rail transport to Italy, which is exploited by Jan de Rijk. This rail service runs five times a week between the Dutch city of Venlo and Milan. On average four to five reefer (o refrigerated) containers with floricultural goods are transported by this service per week in 2014.

The Green Rail project shows how high value, perishable goods can be transported successfully in a multimodal way using both rail and road transport with the double benefits of lower costs and lower CO2 emissions. The number of containers with fresh or floricultural goods on the commercial service from Venlo to Milan is limited to four to five containers per week.


Initially, FloraHolland, the large floriculture auction cooperation, acted as a supply chain director to coordinate the flows between different exporters for the Green Rail project. In the current service between Venlo and Milan exporters are supported by an independent partner for the coordination and communication.

In order to monitor the transport, a ‘Track & Trace’ system is applied. This is considered to be an important aspect in this collaboration, since it enables the chain director (coordinator) to intervene quickly in case of potential problems/delays, and guarantees a high level of service. This was needed to gain trust between logistic service provider and shippers in the sector.


  • Reliability: guarantees the high levels of quality required for the goods transported; 97% of the goods are delivered on time and the conditions are monitored during the transport.
  • 20% cost reduction for the whole transport chain between the Netherlands and Italy.
  • Up to 50% reduction of CO2 emissions by shifting from road to rail transport.

Potential for scaling up

A large share of freight transport in Europe, but also in other parts of the world, is highly perishable. As an example, around 30% of containers imported in the Netherlands in 2013 consisted of food products.

When long distances are involved using multimodal transport for perishables could significantly reduce CO2 emissions.

Selected references

TNO & BCI (2014), De kansen van continentaal synchromodaal vervoer (The opportunities of continental synchromodal transport) (in Dutch)









Europe, Mitigation, Rail, Freight, Technology, Partnerships


FloraHolland, VGB


Edwin Wenink:, Anton bril:

GreenRail is a breakthrough for sustainable transport in the Horticultural sector but needs besides process and technical innovation a social innovation (Mental shift) at all Stakeholders and at all levels within their organisations . We have learned that Freshness is a perception. Freshness of products is highly influenced by a good and well-conditioned Supply Chain
-Edwin Wenink, Manager Supply Chain, FloraHolland