Because it is more environmentally friendly than road transport, rail transport is strongly supported by the European Union. However, the difficulty of accessing information about rail freight services and facilities, particularly for international cargo, has meant most companies prefer to use road transport.

But this is now changing with a new GPS system coupled with Internet-based tracking. Not only does the system provide full freight details for 23,000 stations in 40 countries, but also can instantly indicate the position and progress of individual wagons. This means that users have fast access to all relevant information to simplify use of the rail network and can keep continually up to date on where their cargo is located.

Moreover, the system has already been extended to cover Russia and the Ukraine, enabling tracking of the increasing amount of rail cargo coming from China where rail transfer is three to four times faster than sea transport.

The system is the brainchild of Czech SME JERID, a company which specialises in rail transport software. They saw the need for a system that not only could provide full information about the international railway network - what can be carried, where goods can be loaded, etc. - in graphical form but also could track loads in real time.

"When we started the project, the only generally available rail maps were printed," explains Petr Kroca of JERID in a published statement. "While electronic maps are now more widely available on the Internet, they are without a sufficient predicative 'railway' layer. Users of railways for transporting goods had no information about where the stations were or how goods could be accepted - this is why we started this project."

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Blake Harris  |  Editor