Multimodal through Central Europe

Since 2016, representatives from the worlds of politics, research and the chemical industry from seven different countries have been cooperating as part of the "ChemMultimodal" project to transfer chemical goods off the roads and onto intermodal forms of transport.

The chemical industry has a strong interest in strengthening multimodal transport to ensure safe and efficient transport throughout Europe. However, in Central and Eastern Europe in particular, a large share of chemical products is currently transported by road only.

Multimodal transport is also known as intermodal or combined transport and refers to travel by both rail and inland waterway. It currently finds itself in exceptionally tough competition with road haulage. In recent years, a variety of constraints have seen the railways become more expensive, while road haulage has become cheaper because of low diesel prices. In this price-based competitive environment, multimodal transport is often at a disadvantage. The implementation of multimodal transport also requires more strategic planning and a greater level of communication.

Today, many businesses have to contend with very short-term delivery dates. Ordering an HGV to pick up the products and drive directly to the customer is often the simplest and fastest solution. For multimodal transport however, different connections have to be found and the various transport options with logistics service providers have to be discussed. In many businesses, there is little strategic planning and/or few long-term supply chain concepts that consider all modes of transport. In many cases, sales departments decide the transport connections, or those responsible for the decision-making are located in another country – or even a different continent. Under these conditions, organising multimodal transports is very difficult. As a general rule, it is also necessary to take longer transport times in comparison with road haulage into account. Punctuality and reliability are also crucial requirements for businesses. If more Combined Transport (CT) operations are to be generally achieved, the capacity levels for freight transport on the railways will also have increased over the next few years against the backdrop of the recent difficulties (the problems experienced on the line at Rastatt, the autumn storms), not to mention the current bottlenecks on the networks. In addition, the various technical standards and social parameters in the area of cross-border traffic need to be harmonised.

Despite these disadvantages however, multimodal transport offers many advantages and considerable potential. It allows for the transport of large volumes, which is particularly important for chemical businesses – and from the perspective of many businesses, this is an area in which road haulage has reached its natural limits. Traffic jams and, above all else, a lack of drivers are also considered acute problems, with no improvement seeming to be on the horizon. At the chemical parks, it is also easier to load trains and wagons in coordination with the production processes 24 hours a day, including weekends. The internal optimisation of the logistics processes within the chemical parks, including the pre-loading and intermediate storage, can contribute to a superior distribution of the logistics work and help reduce the need for stationary storage capacities. For the transporting of hazardous goods, the increased safety offered by multimodal transport is also considered a clear advantage for customers who do not benefit from a direct rail link.

Multimodal transport certainly has its strengths, especially over long distances. In technical terms, this is frequently referred to as the minimum total distance of 300 kilometres, which, in practical terms, is considered short. Moreover, a terminal is ideally located no more than 50 kilometres away from the place of loading or delivery.

There are therefore a large number of CT transit points and general links throughout Europe. This is an important prerequisite that allows companies to transport their products with flexibility according to the requirements of their customers. The logistics service providers face the challenge of bundling a variety of transports and organising the return of the containers on an efficient basis. If the aforementioned conditions described are fulfilled, multimodal transport is also competitively priced compared with road haulage. Moreover, in addition to its economic benefits, its impact on the environment is also important. On average, multimodal traffic leads to emissions of just 26 grams of carbon dioxide per tonne-kilometre, while for road haulage by HGV, the total is 62 grams. In terms of the global and national climate policy goals, this contribution should also be highlighted.

Upgrades to CT terminals

It is before this backdrop that a major European partnership has been created between Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Austria, Italy and Slovakia which, in the form of the "ChemMultimodal" project, is making determined efforts to initiate and achieve the transfer of chemical goods from the roads to the railways. Upgrades to CT terminals are now under way in all of the participating countries. In Central Germany, the terminals in Schkopau, Leipzig-Wahren and Schwarzheide have seen a considerable expansion in their capacity in recent years, with more upgrades currently planned. Chemical parks such as Leuna have also invested heavily in their logistics infrastructure (rail links, storage capacity). This shows that the market for multimodal transport is generally developing on a positive basis.

The key activity of the project is the implementation of pilot projects in each participating country. In this respect, the project partners work directly with chemical companies and logistics service providers. In several pilot workshops, a platform for communication and cooperation has been established, where the requirements for multimodal chemical transport and the possible transport routes have been discussed in detail, and the terminal operators and providers of logistics services have been able to present their current and planned efforts regarding multimodal transport. Businesses have expressed their interest in specific routes and volumes that are currently transported by road but have the potential for moving over to the railways. The workshops have been accompanied by presentations on the development of the transport infrastructure and the public support grants which are available.

Following these events, the project partners have held bilateral discussions with interested businesses to discuss their current situation and specific supply chain requirements. At this “micro level”, it is easier for companies to talk openly about individual transport links, volumes and products. With the help of a variety of planning tools, it is possible to research possible multimodal links. In this respect, the "Intermodal Links" platform has proven to be very helpful. This platform integrates the multimodal links of 150 Intermodal service providers with some 25,000 weekly connections from 1,000 terminals. Entering the start and end destination displays a variety of multimodal transport options with the corresponding pre-carriage and post-carriage. It provides information on the terminals involved and the frequency of the connections. The information is also highly relevant and very comprehensive. In many cases, queries using the “Intermodal links” platform have enabled transport options to be found that were previously unknown to the businesses involved.

Following the discussions, the project partners discuss the recommendations on the transfer of their transport operations and – if necessary – arrange for personal contacts with the logistics service providers. This provides businesses with the opportunity to obtain a definitive offer. The businesses are 100% responsible for the negotiation and implementation phase, however. With the help of a carbon dioxide calculator which has also been developed in the scope of the "ChemMultimodal" project, the respective savings in greenhouse gas emissions can also be calculated quickly and easily for the transfer which is initiated by the business in question.

The results so far

The "ChemMultimodal" project partners have worked together with more than 40 chemical companies during the pilot projects and initiated specific transfers.

At the most recent pilot workshop in Central Germany, providers of logistics services and CT terminals presented the launch of several new transport links. Since the end of 2017, a new block train has been operating twice a week from Schkopau KTSK terminal via the CTHS terminal in Halle (Saale) to the port of Rostock. The link is being operated in the form of a cooperation between Deucon, Stena Lines and the Pressbahn rail company. From Rostock, the Baltic region is easily accessible via short-sea connections. In addition, since December, trains from the Belgian Lineas rail service have been making the trip from Schkopau to Antwerp three times a week. The train departs at 9:30 am and reaches its destination at 11:00 am the next day. This fast connection is especially important for the superior networking of the chemical regions in Central Germany and the Port of Antwerp in Belgium, between which a considerable number of supply relationships exist. A multimodal link with a business from Central Germany has even been identified that extends as far as Bristol in Great Britain: starting from Schkopau, the Lineas train travels to Antwerp. Its journey then continues over the canal via short sea, before continuing by train to its ultimate destination. The multimodal transport takes three days, which isn’t much longer than the journey would take by HGV.

Furthermore, since the start of the year, the DUSS terminal in Leipzig-Wahren has been operating six connections to Neuss per week. Hupac, meanwhile, has plans for the other direction: the Bertschi terminal in Schwarzheide is being upgraded as a "gateway to the east", with new connections to Iran and India having already been announced for this year. More multimodal links to Russia, China, South Korea and Vietnam are also going to be developed.

In Austria, a potential multimodal transfer has been identified that travels all the way to Turkey. In this respect, a potential CT connection runs via the terminals in Wels, Linz and Vienna, with road, rail and short sea connections all used. Alternatively, multimodal transport operations via Vienna or Sopron (Hungary) can be completed by road and rail. The transportation time for both options is five days.

Chemical companies from Slovakia have used the findings from the project to carry out the loading of tank containers right on their doorstep in Duslo Šala. This option can also be used by other companies in the Czech and Slovak chemical industries to strengthen their multimodal transport. Regular container transport operations are now under way from Slovakia and Vienna to the Benelux countries, Germany and England, while regular transport operations to France and Spain are currently being organised. In the future, the new terminal in Žilina is also to be served. The terminal in Dobra on the Slovak-Ukrainian border is used for transport operations from China to Central and Western Europe.

Supported by the ChemMultimodal pilot project, three chemical companies in the Czech Republic (Unipetrol RPA, Spolchemie and Vodnísklo) were able to achieve a growth in their multimodal transport operations of more than 15 percent in 2017. The added value of the project consists of improved communications and the creation of synergy effects between the chemical companies and providers of logistics services. The Czech Chemical Industry Association took part in the development of the freight transport concept in the interests of improving the competitiveness of the local chemical industry.

Meanwhile, a chemical company from Poland is planning a CT transport operation to central Spain, replacing the road haulage across Europe with multimodal links which begin at the terminals of Gleiwitz or Sławków in southern Poland, with the trip starting by rail to the Baltic seaports of Danzig or Gdingen before continuing by short sea to Bilbao. The journey takes between 23 and 25 days, but the company prefers this option over road haulage because of its considerably lower costs.

A chemical company from Italy is currently trying to organise a multimodal transport operation from Milan to Kiev. This transport could serve as a model for additional connections to Eastern Europe.

In Hungary, the pharmaceutical company EGIS is working on transferring transport operations from China via the port of Hamburg using a multimodal connection to a terminal in Budapest.

The future

The results obtained so far during the intensive discussions with the chemical companies and logistics service providers show the considerable need for support in terms of communication and cooperation as well as the untapped potential for strengthening multimodal transport. The project partners will continue and consolidate their cooperation with the participating businesses until the end of the project in April 2019. After this, the support structures which have been established should then be maintained by the chemical associations and clusters that are involved.

Author: Andreas Fiedler

Source: “Gefährliche Ladung” magazine