Terminal capacity must be doubled to achieve climate goals

If we want to achieve climate ambitions for the freight transport industry, the capacity of terminals must be doubled. This was concluded by Ad Toet, railway consultant at a webinar about terminal efficiency, held on Wednesday 27 Februari. “Currently, there is hardly any policy on terminal development, it is left up to the market. We have an enormous challenge ahead of us.”

The webinar was organised in the run up to the conference about terminal efficiency for rail, to be held on 28 March in Utrecht, the Netherlands. Toet and two other speakers on the conference programme – Peter Pardoel of Cabooter Group and Jarno Kuipers from Kalmar – set around the table to discuss how this challenge could be tackled.

No policy

In order to reduce greenhouse gasses, a lot more freight should be carried by rail. The industry has signed for a 30 per cent shift to rail by 2030, an ambitious goal. Multimodal logistics chains are the future, many industry experts have argued. In order to facilitate intermodal traffic, terminals must be ready to handle the growing volumes projected.

The problem, however, is that the different stakeholders in a logistics chain are not united in meeting this challenge. “We have a common problem, but no common solution”, said Pardoel. A terminal can take action to a certain extend, but will always depend on railway network outside its premises. The railway operators depend on terminal and infrastructure.

“We discuss the needs of the market when designing a terminal, but there is no central organisation where all stakeholders come together. There is no intervention of policymakers”, agreed Kuipers. With many terminals in different sizes and capabilities, the question is how such an ambitious goal as doubling overall capacity can be reached, the speaker agree, all representing a different sector.

Shunting capacity

A problem illustrating this lack of policy is the shortage of shunting capacity, the panel members agreed. “If terminals are more efficient and therefore faster, the next problem is shunting wagons. What can be done about this?”, asked Vincent van Diggelen, who was watching the webinar. Indeed, the shunting capacity is crucial for the functioning of intermodal terminals, but unfortunately does not meet the demand in many cases, Toet pointed out.

“It is not only about shunting capacity in terms of space”, Pardoel explained. Shunting requires locomotives and people, both of which can be scarce. This is very difficult to manage, but it affects the terminal efficiency significantly. Even if you have the most efficient terminal, if your shunting capacity is not up to the required level, you have a problem. It is the weakest link in the chain.”

The solution is in spatial planning and more investment, but who is to take this responsibility? the panel members are asked. According to Kuipers, the terminal can facilitate sufficient shunting tracks, but will always rely on the network outside. “What is needed are more shunting areas, and more railway lines. Rail should be more reliable to avoid train delays. But a local terminal will not invest in shunting capacity outside the terminal”, he said.


The matter of financing was another point of discussion during the webinar. Who is to invest in terminal capacity, if this is to boost intermodal traffic and bring the industry closer to achieve the climate ambitions of rail? Up till now, terminals are investing their own funds to grow. “This is in the DNA of our company. We started with 20 trains per week, but are now moving 30, and are aiming for 40 trains per week, Pardoel explained about the logistics hotspot of Cabooter Group, which now includes a rail terminal in Venlo and in Kaldenkirchen Germany.

However, financing is a big challenge, he admits. “A terminal consists of a lot of square meters, but not a lot of assets. You really need a solid finance plan. Banks prefer to sign a 30-year contract”, he said. Kuipers agreed: “Some of the smarter solutions we offer are not viable for terminals, because they generally do not have a long business outlook. They depend on market developments”, the Kalmar designer pointed out.

Nevertheless, the terminal operator considers it as a responsibility to expand as an important inland terminal in the Netherlands. “We have the demand. It is our task to get every train from the Port of Rotterdam into the hinterland as soon as possible”, Pardoel noted. The company is currently working on building the biggest inland terminal in the country, named Rail Terminal Greenport Venlo, expected to be completed next year.

Data sharing

The crucial topic of data sharing was triggered by another question from the audience: “How can we offer our customers more flexibility and visibility?”, asked Christopher Saavedra. Pardoel suggests that a lot could be done if the different stakeholders such as rail operator, terminal operator and forwarder would use a harmonised, integrated system. Or, if all the terminals in Europe would use the same interface, in order to manager incoming traffic.

It is the perfect introduction to the ELETA project, which is coordinated by Toet and which is the discussion of his presentation at the conference. “The exchange of information has been set as a priority at the the 2016 TEN-T Days in Rotterdam. With the ELETA project, we use this data to improve the accuracy of the Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA).

“There was no clear definition of the ETA, nor consensus on where to start calculating. From the gate? The port? These are a lot of different places to start from, there is no harmonised method for calculating these expected arrival times”, Toet noted. Moreover, the project brought about a change in the method of calculation, which is done lineairy. “We want to apply artificial intelligence to forecast the ETA. At first, this will be a rough forecast but by time this data will become more accurate. The aim is not to divert more than half an hour of the actual arrival time, this would be considered accurate.”

Conference Improving Rail Terminal Efficiency

Did you miss the webinar? It can be downloaded on the webinar page. Watching the webinar is free of charge. It was organised in the run up to the conference Improving Rail Terminal Efficiency,  held on 28 March in Utrecht, the Netherlands. This conference takes place on the last day of the three-day exhibition fair called the Freight and Terminal Forum. As part of the larger RailTech Europe 2019, this event is held from 26-28 March 2019. Registration for this event is already open. The programme can be found here.


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