The railroad was invented in the middle of the 19th century. Very soon after establishing the first railroad connections rail transport became the most import mode of land transport and one of the main initiators of the industrialization in Europe. Railway systems were able to carry much higher payloads at a average higher speed over long distances than all other modes of transport in the 19th century.
Large networks of railroad tracks have been built all over Europe. [Clausen 1998, pp. 110-116; Vahrenkamp 2005, pp. 303-314]
Rail Roads are depending on their own infrastructure (tracks) having fixed gauges. Actually in Europe three track gauge have been introduced. Apart from the Spain, former Russian Empire/ Soviet Union and Finland all other countries have put a standard track gauge in place which allows wagons and locomotives to operate on all networks without changing the axles at the border. [Vahrenkamp 2005, pp. 306-307]
Figure: Illustration of rail services (Source: Kühne & Nagel)
Another limitation occurred when much more powerful electric powered locomotives, up to 6 - 8 MW today, where replacing the steam powered ones.[Clausen 1998, pp. 110-116; Vahrenkamp 2005, pp. 306-307]
The electric power supply, voltage and frequency, is based on the national standards which differs a lot country by country. For most of the electric locomotives it means they cannot cross certain borders in within Europe since Europe displays a highly heterogeneous landscape for electric rail traction and ensuring interoperability is a lengthy and highly political process.[Clausen 1998, pp. 116-128; Vahrenkamp 2005, pp. 306-307]
Railroad today is used mainly for bulky loose cargo like coal, ore and grain as well as for steel products but also for container transports to certain European hubs.
Since the opening of the of the Trans Siberian railway lines for private enterprises a strong competition between sea and rail container transport has occurred for servicing the lines between Far East Asia and Northern Europe. [Vahrenkamp 2005, pp. 303-305]
Another main cargo for rail system is oil, oil products, liquids, liquid chemicals and other bulky industrial semi products.[Clausen 1998, pp. 116-128]
Since sufficient road networks have been established and trucks have gained a level of reliability and capacity the rail has lost its dominance for general cargo transports. [Clausen 1998, pp. 116-128]