Anticipating further growth in maritime cargo transport by rail, experts from the rail and port sector are going for digitalization and automation.
The ‘First Rail Conference on Cargo Transport by Rail and Ports’ brought together numerous experts from the railway network, rail operator, shipowning, terminal and port operation fields. The attendance of 200 filled all available seats in the conference room of the Hotel Baseler Hof. Acceptances on this scale underlined that a rail conference with the focus on freight transport and the ports has been lacking in Hamburg. Held on the initiative of their Rail Working Group headed by Dr Bernd-R. Pahnke, Vice President Port Development, DB Cargo AG, the Hamburg Logistics Initiative (LIHH) and Port of Hamburg Marketing were the organizers of this first Rail Conference. Those invited included interested members, along with numerous representatives of companies and organizations from Hamburg, the Metropolitan Region and the whole of Germany.
Both the welcome address by Prof Dr Peer Witten, Chairman of LIHH, and the introductory lecture by Senator Frank Horch, Hamburg’s Minister of Economics, Transport and Innovation, emphasized that around eleven percent of freight traffic by rail in Germany commences or finishes its journey in Hamburg. Even though the Elbe metropolis is well positioned on the market, in Senator Horch’s view many challenges remain for successfully developing rail freight traffic. He sees the excellent cooperation between business, learning and organizations, along with neighbouring countries, as a fine basis for further successful development of mobility. He also sees digitalization and automation as being of growing significance in container handling and freight transport.
Mega-ships with slot capacities of over 20,000 TEU meanwhile will ensure growing volumes in container handling at terminals in the ports. Both Lars Neumann, Head of HQ Projects and Business Development for HHLA, and Manuela Drews, Managing Director of EUROGATE Container Terminal Bremerhaven, stressed that while terminal operators are investing heavily in efficient ship clearance, to enable growing transport freight volumes with the hinterland to be mastered, they are also investing in cutting-edge equipment and IT on land. For HHLA, its METRANS and POLZUG subsidiaries provide railborne container transport. In future, their activities will be pooled. Distribution in the region, as well as connections to further target regions in Europe, is supervised through such central hubs as the recently inaugurated multimodal terminal in Budapest. That Hamburg with around 2000 container block train services per week lies far ahead of competing ports such as Rotterdam and Antwerp, is underlined in Neumann’s view by the 62 weekly container block train departures between Hamburg and Munich, compared to four connections from Rotterdam. Five times more container block trains run between Austrian multimodal terminals and the Port of Hamburg than to Antwerp, he continued.
Rolf Habben Jansen, Chairman of Hapag-Lloyd’s Executive Board explained that while well-organized hinterland transport in combination with a high proportion of local cargo may create advantages for Hamburg, ultimately these factors alone are not decisive for shipowners in their decisions on ports. The failure so far to dredge the Elbe cannot in the long run have a positive effect on Hamburg’s competitiveness. On a market that generally continues to grow, Hamburg should therefore seize its opportunities and ensure good accessibility by land and on water.
Dr Sebastian Saxe, CDO and a member of HPA Hamburg Port Authority’s Management Board, sees the Port of Hamburg as a good example of successful adaptation to mega-trends. With smartPORT, more efficient direction and design of processes in the fields of infrastructure, traffic and freight flows was initiated and implemented at an early stage. For instance, diagnostic systems now feed all the data essential for operation and maintenance of track switches to a central control point, ensuring unimpeded operation of the Port Railway. Since 2008, HPA has invested a total of 450 million euros in modernization.
Multimodal terminals inland must also adapt capacities to growing freight volumes. Operating a large number of multimodal terminals, Deutsche Umschlaggesellschaft Schiene-Strasse (DUSS), for example, has specifically invested in expanding existing multimodal facilities and building new ones. Andreas Schulz, Managing Director of DUSS, made it clear that utilization of DUSS’s existing 25 multimodal terminals averages 80 percent. With anticipated annual growth of between three and four percent, his own calculations indicate that 20 additional multimodal terminals will have to be built in Germany during the next few years. Increasing difficulty in securing suitable logistic sites is however hampering expansion of facilities and the creation of new ones. Apart from site enlargement, for DUSS digitalization of booking, order handling and terminal control processes and automation of equipment at handling facilities are of special importance.
Oliver Meng, Managing Director of Neutral Container Shuttle System (Necoss) welcomed investments in expanding multimodal terminals. Specialization of container trains offered in Northern Germany and a larger range of ‘dedicated trains’ are meanwhile facilitating good load factors for the trains and healthy positioning on the market. For Thomas Kowitzki, Head of Multimodal for DHL Freight, this is achieved by the international transport chains that the group is developing for its customers. These incorporate rail transport. For instance, DHL now offers regular shipment possibilities by rail between Europe and 40 destinations in China. He foresees an improvement of transit time on this long route of eight to nine days in each direction. Kowitzki puts the volume transported by rail between European and Chinese destinations at around 100,000 TEU.
Dirk Steffes, head of the Intermodal Market Division with DB Cargo, stressed that digitalization and automation in train operation offer numerous opportunities for development. Apart from locomotives and railcars, for instance, booking and data platforms for DB Cargo’s customers could be further optimized. ‘My Rail Portal’ and ‘BOX 2 RAIL’ represent a successful start. Steffes also sees opportunities for alliances with competitors in the cross booking field, also on the use of other operators’ transport capacities where required.
Michael Körber, Head of Marketing and Timetables for DB Netz, Northern Region, presented simplified access to DB Netz’s track data and track booking. The data systems ‘Strecken.info’, ‘Netzcockpit’ and ‘Trassenfinder’ rapidly supply customers with the required details. Körber pointed out that expansion and new construction measures already successfully implemented had made around 250 extra goods train track slots per day available. A total of about 40,000 trains per day are moving around the DB network in Germany. Körber also sees maritime cargo services as powering growth in the years to come, and gave an assurance that with the expansion of important transport corridors for the seaports, the company will be ensuring adequate track capacity.