Chemicals transport: from road to an intermodal approach
In Ludwigshafen, Germany, BASF SE has the largest production site for chemicals in the world, where products are manufactured for the European as well as for the global market. All kinds of transport modes are used for the distribution of goods, however, for the European market, transport via road and rail prevails. Each day, some 2.000 trucks and 450 rail cars are loaded for distribution out of the Ludwigshafen site.
The Ludwigshafen terminal began operations in 2001. Loaded containers, trailers and swap bodies are collected by trucks at various loading stations, then moved to an intermodal terminal and lifted with a gantry crane onto a rail wagon. The long distance leg of the transport to customers is then covered by train to another intermodal terminal in the area where the customer is located. There, the loaded unit is lifted from the rail wagon onto a truck again and transported via road to the customer’s site. During the leg of the journey by rail, loaded units need not to be accompanied by drivers.
The systematic development of intermodal transport between road and rail at BASF started in 2001. In 2005, the initial capacity of the Ludwigshafen intermodal terminal was increased from 170.000 to 300.000 container moves per year. The next stage of expansion is currently under construction and will go operational in 2012. Capacity will then be at 500.000 container moves per year.
The success of the terminal is also based on the implementation of a powerful intermodal rail network across Europe. Today, intermodal links exist between Ludwigshafen and all economic centers as well as the most important ports in Europe. Furthermore, the Ludwigshafen terminal also works as a hub for gateway transports. Blocktrains operated by different intermodal operators approach the terminal regularly – at least once a day. To further improve this network and increase its usability for BASF-Group as a whole, BASF has recently invested in another intermodal terminal at its Antwerp site in Belgium.
Essential for the effectiveness of the intermodal network is free access for all transport service providers. Needless to say that both terminals at BASF sites are public terminals, i.e. they are intensively used by several service providers and other shippers.
Transporting goods this way across long distances in e urope has several advantages:
- CO2 emissions can be reduced up to 65% when shifting from road to intermodal transport. 25% of BASF ́s volume shipped out of Ludwigshafen is distributed by intermodal transport, with yearly savings of some 45.000 mt of CO2 emissions.
- There is a reduction of transport costs because of the allowed higher payload for intermodal transport compared to transport by road.
- Processes are optimised at production and loading stations, e.g. the possibility of unaccompanied loading of transport equipment at night.
- One is able to avoid certain restrictions, e.g. no truck transport allowed on weekends and holidays, transport in especially poor weather conditions, or passing through tunnels with precarious goods, etc.
- There are also fewer problems concerning the availability of drivers who are licensed to transport hazardous goods.
Europe’s transport policy should be based on co-modality. Multimodal transport is the core of the logistics business and key for the flexible and innovative services provided to customers. The underlying principle is efficiency: to stay competitive with respect to cost, all modes have to improve their efficiency.
Opportunities for route optimisation and/or modal shift depend on many factors including commodity, acceptance for increased rail externalities and infrastructure deployment, customer desires (time, cost, CO2 footprint), distance, reliability, flexibility of transport services and availability of transport infrastructure. Freight transport is very distinct, with varying types of journeys and shipments depending on different services and customer needs.
To make rail transport a real alternative to road transport, full liberalisation and fair competition of the rail freight market should be implemented and enforced without delay. This would trigger the necessary investments in infrastructure and renewal of rolling stock. The EU, in particular, Member States and MEPs need to address the issue of public acceptance of increased rail transport before restricting other modes.