Sustainable deliveries of goods in Paris (France)

By News Editor / Updated: 25 May 2015

Since 2007 Monoprix, a major French retailer, has reduced its reliance on lorry deliveries and has been dispatching goods to its stores in Paris using trains and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) vehicles for last-mile deliveries. This sustainable multimodal solution – which involved renovating a platform at a city centre train station – has resulted in significant reductions in CO2 and NOx emissions, reduced the need for warehouse space and generated a positive public ‘green’ image for the retailer.

The increased knowledge and experience in the field of multimodal transport and logistics, meanwhile, could also be a competitive advantage for Monoprix in the event of France’s controversial eco-taxes being introduced.


The high demand for freight in the Paris area poses a big challenge and it is crucial to ensure an efficient and sustainable distribution of goods. Even though the city is at the centre of the radial structure of the French railway network, the share of rail freight transport is very low: in the Île de France region, the share of road transport is as high as 90 per cent and almost 100 per cent in the last mile. The increasing traffic congestion and the negative impacts caused by road transport have mobilised authorities to define measures for sustainable logistics.

In 2002 a team composed of relevant stakeholders developed an urban logistics and sustainable mobility programme. In 2006, 47 partners including logistics companies, railway and waterborne transport operators, suppliers and retailers drew up a charter (available to download below) of best practice on transport and distribution of goods in Paris to enhance the sustainability of transport and distribution activities. 

In action 

The initiative of a supply chain using rail for freight transport inside Paris was launched by the Municipality of Paris in 2004 in collaboration with other organisations such as the French rail infrastructure manager RFF. The municipality contributed € 2m towards the renovation of the Gabriel Lamé platform in the Paris-Gare de Lyon station, which would act as the multimodal interchange.  This work included building a barrier to protect the neighbourhood and residents from noise and setting up a Natural Gas Vehicle fuelling station.

Monoprix took this opportunity to change its delivery process and use this method to deliver goods such as clothes, health care/cleaning products and beverages to its Paris stores.  It would use trains to transport goods to the G. Lamé platform from its two distribution centres 40 km away and then make the last-mile delivery with LNG vehicles.  

Monoprix’s suppliers deliver their goods to the distribution centres by 18:00 on the day before the stores are scheduled to receive them. They are then bundled onto pallets and loaded into train wagons (hired from the rail company SNCF) with forklift trucks. The train would leave at 19:40 and arrive at the G. Lamé platform at 21:15, where the pallets are then loaded onto the LNG vans, which can carry 20 pallets each. Last-mile deliveries start at 06.30. Monoprix uses an average of 17 train wagons each with a capacity of 46 pallets. This service uses about 260 trains a year - equivalent to 12 000 lorries.


The shift from road to rail and LNG vehicles has resulted in a reduction of 410 000 t CO2 per year and 25 t NOx per year. Even though not quantified, the fewer number of lorries on the roads is expected to have reduced congestion, road wear and road accidents.

It has also reduced the need for space in Monoprix’s warehouses. Thanks to the higher loading speed and carrying capacity of rail wagons (because of their side doors), a depot in Lieusaint managed to meet increases in demand without having to enlarge warehouse space. It takes 25 minutes to load a wagon with 43 pallets, while it took one hour and 30 minutes to load the same number of pallets on a lorry. Furthermore it is possible to simultaneously load 10 wagons, making more space in the warehouse available for other goods.

Costs are also gradually decreasing. In 2007 the costs for the rail/LNG vehicle deliveries were 25 per cent greater than those of road-only transport; in 2012 they were 12 per cent.  Monoprix’s acquired experience in improving the efficiency of its logistics chain is also an important competitive factor for the future – particularly if the French government revisits plans for a national eco-tax.

Together with its sale of organic products and the renovation of its stores to reduce energy consumption, the sustainable freight solutions means Monoprix can also now positively advertise itself as a green company.

Challenges, opportunities and transferability 

Operational costs have turned out to be higher than expected. Rail multimodal transport is profitable when the distance travelled is about 800-1000 km.  But in Monoprix’s case, it is a short part of the total. In spite of the increase in efficiency between 2007 to 2012, the costs are still 12 per cent greater than conventional road-only transport. This is mainly due to the idle times at the G. Lamé platform, where instead of cross-docking the pallets, they are unloaded from trains and loaded onto vans over two different periods.

Furthermore, their suppliers’ high delivery frequencies prevents Monoprix from using railway to transport goods to its Combs la Ville warehouse because its does not achieve the required economies of scale.  It is also only possible to hire full-train unit compositions of 22 wagons from the rail operator, while the demand means that Monoprix frequently uses 17 wagons. Moreover, Monoprix is forced to pay an annual tariff for the daily use of 26 LNG vehicles even though on many occasions it uses fewer vehicles. There are no flexible options.

Using this multimodal solution to deliver to more stores would be a solution. However, stores want to receive their deliveries within the same time period and this makes it difficult to schedule the overall deliveries. Finally, the G. Lamé platform is in a highly populated area. Many citizens complain about the noise caused by unloading, especially in relation to the steel platforms that are necessary to allow forklift trucks to board the train.

In Depth 

Photo by Jude Freeman / CC BY-ND 2.0

Urban freight/city logistics
Northern Europe
Sylvaine Benjamin
Marco Valerio Salucci
02 Feb 2015
25 May 2015