Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Intermodal Rail Freight Beats Road Haulage in the Right Market

Schenker Score Highly in the Frozen North Cargo Stakes
Shipping News Feature

NORWAY – ARCTIC CIRCLE – GERMANY – Proponents of rail freight argue consistently that it conserves energy and reduces pollution compared to road haulage but to do so there must be an efficient and practical service with a good percentage of take up of the available space. To make a profit on such a service demands excellent road links to the intermodal terminals with dedicated railheads for bulk cargo customers, not always easily achievable given the amount of infrastructure necessary for such projects.

This week then it is good to hear that the service launched a year ago by DB Schenker the ‘North Rail Express’ which links the Norwegian capital Oslo and the Arctic Circle town of Narvik is running successfully and can claim an outstanding capacity utilisation of over 95%. The route was taken over by Schenker AS in Norway, Green Cargo in Sweden, and the Industry Sector Intermodal of European rail freight operator DB Schenker Rail after Schenker concluded their previous agreement with Cargonet, a subsidiary of the Norwegian State Railways and the service enables Schenker AS to offer regular rail transport on the 1,960 kilometre route mostly via Sweden.

Roughly 25,000 containers were shipped on the route last year and Schenker claim that the success of the route is based on the combination of the intermodal flexibility of trucks with the benefits of rail, bringing essential supplies like consumer and household goods as well as part-loads and groupage to the industry and commerce in northern Norway, five days a week. On the return trip, the train transports native products like fish to the southwest. In an agreement with Autolink, up to 15 wagons per week are attached to the train, with new cars for the whole of northern Norway.

The service is of course subject to extremes of climate, particularly in the long, harsh winter yet the train aims for a transit time of just twenty six and a half hours for the near 2,000 kilometre journey, an average speed approaching 75 kph. The conditions mean extra maintenance costs and downtime to ensure the wagons remain serviceable and storage space for spares has been increased as temperatures fall below -40 degrees (both Celcius and Fahrenheit are the same at this point).

To reinforce the service DB Schenker Rail purchased 28 S double well cars and 20 S carrier cars, which are especially suited to the special climatic conditions. The DB Schenker North Rail Express will transport around 90 percent of DB Schenker’s freight destined for northern Norway by rail, which is equivalent to approximately 12,500 truckloads annually and anyone who has had cause to visit the region will appreciate why a rail freight service which can be maintained is preferable to any form of road haulage.