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Dipl.-Volksw.
Achim Beerheide

Environment, Logistics
and Education

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Logistics

The transport structure of the steel industry

The production of steel is associated with complex and very extensive transport processes. The steel industry in Germany is strongly committed to the particularly sustainable carriers – railways and inland waterways.

Over 50 per cent of transport volumes are forwarded by rail and almost 30 per cent via inland waterways. The steel industry has been able to maintain this environmentally friendly transport structure for decades – thanks to major investments in its own wide-ranging rail networks, in modern works railway companies and in efficient private ports (including a significant push-tow shipping company).

Inland waterway transport exploits its strengths especially in the supply of raw materials. Road transport is indispensable for the delivery of finished products, for example to customers without a rail connection. Rail transport is responsible for roughly half of both the incoming and outgoing transport volumes.

As a result of its high transport intensity, the steel industry is highly dependent on efficient and powerful carriers.

Traffic infrastructure: investments necessary

The increasingly undersized and insufficiently maintained traffic infrastructure is the most important deficit of Germany’s traffic system.

Chart: Investment in traffic infrastructure

Investment in traffic infrastructure has been too low for years

On the one hand, the transport infrastructure network exhibits numerous unnecessary bottlenecks as a result of inadequate funding and overlong planning processes. This results in economically damaging congestion. On the other hand, it is becoming increasingly clear that there has been insufficient spending on maintenance work for decades: instead of minimising long-term total costs through optimised maintenance, as would seem logical, investments have only been made to meet the most urgent requirements. Over-proportional reconstruction costs are the consequence. Experience with short-term emergency closures and restrictions of core network structures illustrate that a fundamental change of course is required here. The steel industry emphatically supports increased government investment in transport infrastructure totalling EUR 14 bn. per year and these investments have to be stabilised at a needs-oriented level.

Rail freight transport: strengthening of competition

The most important rail service provider for the steel companies has traditionally been DB Schenker Rail. During recent years, the company has been able to considerably improve the quality of its services and its customer orientation. DB Schenker Rail and the steel industry jointly optimise their co-operation and develop constructive solutions to deal with differences – in numerous top-level discussions, regular meetings and ad-hoc working groups. More and more competitors of DB Schenker Rail also commit themselves to rail transport for the steel industry, and thus contribute significantly towards a more efficient logistics system. The steel industry in Germany will continue to support greater competition in the railway sector. The dialogue continues.

Enhanced single wagonload traffic

An enormously significant rail-related topic that is, however, given little consideration by the public, is the current condition of wagonload traffic in the EU, which is very relevant in volume. Wagonload traffic consists of single wagons or groups of wagons that are not driven as a complete train directly to the recipient but use the system of marshalling yards. DB Schenker Rail has largely been able to maintain the national network during recent years, and the production system has been more efficiently structured. Seven national central and northern European rail companies have created the Xrail alliance dedicated to enhancing the Europe-wide production system. Wagonload traffic has, however, been drastically reduced in many neighbouring countries, e.g. in France and Italy. Without maintaining the eminently important wagonload traffic system at roughly the current level, however, all efforts to shift traffic from road to rail are doomed to failure from the start. In the medium term, the system actually needs to be further expanded. As a result, the EU and member states should specifically commit themselves to retaining and modernising the wagonload traffic system.

Technical modernisation of wagons

In terms of wagon technology, the goods wagons of the European standard gauge system are still at the level of the 19th century. In particular, retention of the antiquated screw coupling, whereby a complicated, time-consuming coupling process has to be carried out manually for every single wagon, is unjustifiable both regarding cost-effectiveness and safety at work. Automatic couplings have been a matter of course almost everywhere worldwide for decades. If necessary, a funding programme must ensure, as soon as possible, that any new wagons are equipped with automatic couplings.

More efficient processing of road freight

Adaptation of the legal regulations regarding the permissible total lorry weight could reduce the strain on the road network. The steel industry calls for an increase in the weight limit for heavy vehicles from the current 40 tonnes to 44 tonnes. The greater flexibility in loading heavy individual pieces in the steel industry alone could prevent about 100,000 unnecessary journeys per year.

Securing steel cargos on lorries

Securing coils before transport by lorry

The proper securing of the transported goods is also an important concern of the steel industry in Germany. The loading of steel on lorries is demanding and is carried out with great care by steel companies. In collaboration with other associations and institutions, the German Steel Federation has produced loading recommendations, e.g. for the special case of steel sheets with thicknesses of over 5 mm transported by road.