Thursday, November 29, 2012

London Gateway Develops Freight Infrastructure for New Container Shipping Port and Logistics Park

Roadshow Emphasises Cost and Time Savings to Potential Customers
Shipping News Feature

UK - There is something very special about witnessing the birth of a completely new port wherever in the world it occurs. Some of our staff have had the privilege of observing the building of facilities at Ngqura, in South Africa and across parts of China and now London, formerly home to the largest and most productive docks in the world, is poised to once again bid to become the most important port in Europe. The move away from conventional freight and the rise of container shipping broke the traditional mould and although labour relations are often blamed for the demise of the city as a key import and export point, it was in fact the inexorable rise of the box lines upon which the fate of the capital as the UK’s major logistics centre was predicated.

In the 1960’s the writer was privileged to walk the mile long dry concrete valley which formed the newly constructed fourth branch dock at Tilbury which, when later filled with Thames river water, would accept the cargoes formerly handled upstream at the Royal Docks. Despite however this shuffling of trade downriver the increase could never satisfy the new demand and competition to the North and South, and the fact that the only true deepwater moorings in the Thames were utilised firstly as explosives moorings, and latterly by the burgeoning tanker traffic plying a growing trade at Canvey, Grain and Coryton, the heyday of the region as a series of ports had faded.

Now it has taken another major shift in trade patterns and infrastructure, plus the confidence of experienced, overseas investors, to launch a scheme which not only aims to ensure a Thames port once again holds primacy in Britain but actively threatens the dominance of continental ports such as Rotterdam and Antwerp. On Tuesday, DP World hosted over 400 freight and logistics industry related personnel to witness progress in the group’s mammoth London Gateway scheme to once again ensure the South East of England becomes the logical place to export and import goods for most of the country.

This was the first in a short series of roadshows to not only confirm the state of play but to reinforce the company’s commitment and aspirations for their new baby, and even to the greatest cynic, the facts are impressive.

As with properties of all types the key to London Gateway is simply location. It lies 25 miles to the East of Marble Arch and DP World is ensuring dualled road links from the dock gates along the A13 corridor to meet the M25. From here the company says it will be eight lane highway all the way to Milton Keynes and that at todays rates delivery costs to most of the UK will be reduced, quoting a figure of $94 for containers bound to the North West of England and an even more impressive $300+ per box when shipments are headed into London. The rich seam of commercial interests which lay within a two hour drive are sufficient to make this an interesting and potentially viable concept.

In order to make the scheme works as a port it was essential to build suitable rail links to enable intermodal transfers can be made quickly and efficiently. DP World have, as with the roads, planned for twin tracks leading from the Stanford le Hope line to six dedicated sidings plus two reception sidings, capable of taking trains up to 750 metres in length.

DB Schenker has been quick to seize the opportunity and guaranteed an initial service level of four trains per day, five days per week from the moment the port opens for business. Dr. Carsten Hinne, the rail group’s Managing Director was at pains to emphasise that Schenker was ‘truly committed to support this change’, and said the services would initially consist of two daily trains to the Midlands plus one each to North East and North Western England with services integrated into his company’s international network.

DP World has plenty of global form for port management, the group operates sixty terminals worldwide, handles 55 million TEU with some 30,000 staff. The facilities at Jebel Ali put through more boxes than all the UK’s ports added together and, with the first of the Essex deepwater quays almost completed equipment is en route from all over the globe to ensure operations commence on time toward the end of 2013.

With a chessboard of container lanes already constructed on the six hundred metre long Number One deepwater berth, the first tranche of rail mounted ship to shore dock cranes, there are eight in the initial order, await loading in Shanghai whilst twenty eight shuttle carries will come from Poland and some of the forty Chinese built auto stackers are en route and will arrive before Christmas.

Simon Moore, CEO of London Gateway, was keen to emphasise that DP World intend this port to be a success purely on its own merits. Two square miles of docks will have the biggest tidal window for the new generation of giant container vessels with 17 metres available alongside the quays during the lowest tidal window. The channels have been dredged to a minimum corresponding depth of 14.5 metres to allow access by extracting around 24 million cubic metres of sand, mud and gravel from the river so far (with the total foreseen as 30 million) to form a completely new riverside making Essex just that bit bigger.

There is however a much grander plan for this scheme beyond the port with the immediate hinterland set to become the largest logistics park in the UK. The change will be incremental but DP World are gambling that the cost and time reductions on offer will ensure that this currently forlorn and windswept site will encourage all the big hitters, particularly both conventional and online retailers and 3PL operations, to open their own distribution centres.

The advantages to this type of customer will be obvious provided the port can attract sufficient of the major liner agencies to base themselves here. With a switch in trade from Chinese manufacturing to other ASEAN nations as the Great Panda’s citizens prosper, it will be essential that these ocean freight services route through London Gateway giving confidence to potential property clients and additionally this will automatically attract new business in the form of cross channel and North Sea feeder lines.

Besides potential cost savings a presence in a logistics park here could be of great geographical and chronological benefit to the right type of distributor. Moore makes the point an order could be picked at 5am and delivered in central London before 9. With no real road haulage costs to incur between dockside and distribution centre (a transfer of a few hundred metres) and modern technological stock control interfacing between discharge, customs examination and delivery the appeal will doubtless be great.

To kick start development of the logistics park DP World will probably have to invest further in the construction of an initial shared user facility to enable interested parties to dip their toes in and test the commercial waters. Assuming the level of trade in and out of the UK is maintained or develops it seems likely that, with this particular scheme, fortune may well favour the brave, and those, like DB Schenker and Roadways Container Logistics, which is to provide the rail terminal facilities, will profit by their relatively early involvement in a scheme which may not see full completion for a decade or so.

The beauty of London Gateway is that it is not an improvement on existing facilities but a bespoke creation, tailored to fit and enhance local infrastructure whilst being close to its potential customers main markets. DP World are quite open in expressing their potential ignorance for certain clients requirements whilst remaining confident in their port management abilities, hence the roadshows. The group has made it plain that, to ensure it gets it right first time, suggestions from freight forwarders and other shipping professionals as to what they would like to see from this new development will be more than welcome whilst there is still sufficient time to integrate new ideas into the scheme.

Photo: A view toward the river from the newly constructed No. 1 Berth.