Traffic stagnates in first half – Hupac

Switzerland-based rail operator Hupac is in many ways a bellwether for the state of European intermodal logistics.

Traffic stagnates in first half – Hupac

Assessing the first half of this year, Hupac said that despite lively demand, the group’s traffic stagnated at the previous year’s level with an increase of just 1 percent. Construction activity in Germany in particular had a negative impact in the months of April and June.

Traffic on Hupac’s network achieved a volume of 575,000 road consignments, a small increase of 1 percent over the previous year. After a lively development in the first quarter with monthly growth rates in the high single digits, traffic slumped in the months of April and June. This was due to route closures and capacity restrictions caused by the intensive construction activity on the Rhine-Alpine corridor.

Transalpine traffic through Switzerland was particularly affected. “In the north-south corridor, we were not able to achieve our set growth targets,” explained CEO Michail Stahlhut. “On the other hand, traffic in the north-east and south-east corridors developed positively. Traffic in Spain remained below expectations due to capacity bottlenecks.”

The situation in maritime transport remained tense. Pandemic-related congestion in overseas traffic triggered negative cascading effects in European seaports, in domestic terminals and in combined transport operations. In addition, there was the poor performance of the German rail network.

Despite a 3 percent increase over the previous year, the ERS Railways subsidiary still had not been able to reach pre-pandemic volumes.

Investing in resilience

Hupac said that it is countering the ongoing difficult situation in the railway network in Germany with a 10-point ‘Contingency & Resilience’ programme, which was presented at the operator’s general assembly in May 2022. “Our response to the capacity restrictions caused by construction activity on the network are investments in reserves and emergency measures,” Stahlhut continued.

The first measures have already been implemented. By the end of the year, the wagon fleet will be significantly increased by the purchase and rental of almost 900 additional modules. A large number of these wagons are stationed as reserves at nodes in the network for use in the event of irregularities and so contribute to the stability of the overall transport service.

Hupac is also strengthening its position in the traction sector. Performance is being improved by focusing on high-performance rail partners, deepening co-operation with Swiss national carrier SBB Cargo International, securing additional train drivers to stand in on behalf of Hupac in the event of breakdowns and, last but not least, through proactive information and management.

In the terminal side of the business, bottlenecks at the Busto Arsizio-Gallarate hub were overcome through active collection management of the loading units.

Network capacity

However, the central concern of the Hupac Group is to secure sufficient capacity in the railway network. For upcoming construction work in the coming years, the focus must be increasingly on capacity-saving planning and on efficient diversion routes, the operator added. The negative experiences at certain periods during this year show that time-sensitive combined transport needs full train path capacity on a weekly basis, even during construction measures, in order to avoid supply bottlenecks.

“All parties involved in the transport chain must significantly increase their ambition for more capacity under the given circumstances,” Stahlhut demanded. A short-term switch to pure road transport is only possible to a small extent for combined transport customers. In particular, the extensive corridor renovations planned in the German network from 2024 onwards remain a risk for Europe-wide supply if construction measures are not planned in line with the market and functional rerouting concepts are not created.

This could be prevented by improving the international co-ordination of construction sites along the entire corridors and, in some cases, by upgrading the diversion routes. Smaller measures such as additional switches, changes to operating rules, etc, can make a big difference and must be implemented as a priority.

This echoes a call by Hupac, along with SBB Cargo, VAP association and BLS Cargo, to upgrade the railway on the French side of the Rhine valley as an alternative solution while completion of the line on the German side between Karlsruhe and Basel is undertaken. This is not expected before 2040-2045.

Capacity bottlenecks are noticeably worsening and represent a worrying constant, the Swiss companies stated.

Capacity preview

For the coming months, Hupac expects a satisfactory capacity offer with the current Covid 19 situation, despite the numerous construction sites on the Rhine-Alpine corridor. This is being made possible by diversions, the strengthening of the offer on alternative relations and the provision of reserve compositions. Stahlhut concluded: “We have understood our customers’ request for more transparency and will provide a detailed capacity preview with monthly updates. This will enable transport companies and shippers to manage traffic volumes better even in the event of capacity restrictions.”

Polish transhipment terminal

Further east Hupac is opening a new transhipment terminal in Brwinów, near Warsaw, Poland. The facility supports the exchange of goods in central and eastern Europe and enables the further growth of combined transport, the company claimed.

The HTB Hupac Terminal Brwinów is located in a logistics district about 25km southwest of Warsaw. The facility, with a handling capacity of 12 train pairs per day in phase 2, can shift up to 180,000 containers a year from road to rail. This would prevents the equivalent of 10km of traffic congestion every day and reduce CO2 emissions by up to 250,000 tons a year, Hupac stated.

“The development of the infrastructure is taking place according to our proven step-by-step approach,” said Stahlhut at the inauguration ceremony in Brwinów in September. “In the first phase, we will put two transhipment tracks and three service tracks into operation. Loading units will be handled by reach-stackers. In the second phase, we will scale capacity and install another three transhipment tracks as well as powerful gantry cranes,” he added. From the beginning, the terminal has been designed for 740m long trains. “In this way, we are anticipating the parameters of the European freight corridors and achieve maximum productivity for combined transport trains.”

The terminal is seen as an essential requirement for developing the European intermodal network, and companies looking to switch to climate-friendly combined transport in the Warsaw economic region. The investment in the terminal equates to €37 million.

Hupac launched the terminal project in 2017 and initially provided for road and rail access. After a pandemic-related break, construction work was resumed in March 2021 and completed at the end of August 2022. The facility covers an area of 140,000 sqm and includes a check-in area, transhipment area of 42,000 sqm, office facilities and technical buildings. In addition, there is another plot of land of 160,000 sqm for future developments.

Around 40 percent of the area will be planted with trees, bushes and meadow areas. “In this way, we can reduce soil sealing and protect nature and the environment,” explained Dario Arcotti, director engineering at Hupac. The entire handling area of the terminal is equipped with underground detention basins and a separate wastewater system to prevent possible groundwater contamination.

The owner and operator of the facility is the Polish company Hupac Terminal Brwinów Sp zoo. The operations handover is scheduled to take place this autumn. In the initial phase, the terminal will operate in two shifts.

“We are looking forward to the challenge and want to offer our customers real added value with numerous additional services,” said Diana Batko, managing director of Hupac’s subsidiary in Poland. Along with smooth transhipment, these include customs services, loading stations for containers and weighing of loading units. The terminal is accessible to all railway companies in accordance with applicable EU law.

Combined transport hub

The Brwinów terminal creates real opportunities for the development of combined transport, said Renzo Capanni, who took over responsibility for Hupac Intermodal’s Shuttle Net North East business area at the end of August. “Until now, there were no capacity reserves for intermodal transport within 120km of the Polish capital. The new terminal creates prospects for the growth of the entire sector.”

Once the terminal is operational, Hupac will gradually transfer existing connections to the new facility. Capanni went on: “Brwinów in the heart of Poland is the ideal location for international connections to the Polish market. In the mid-term, we see opportunities not only in strengthening traffic on the east-west axis, but also in developing traffic on the north-south axis, where Brwinów can take on a central hub function.”