A major investment project at ABP Southampton will enable rail operator DB Cargo to step up its rail freight services in response to demand.
Rail is increasingly being recognised as the cost-effective, environmentally friendly, efficient solution for numerous modern supply chains, says David Cross, Acting Sector Head, Intermodal, at DB Cargo (UK).
The important role that rail can play was also confirmed in the UK Government’s recently published Rail Freight Strategy; but of course, DB Cargo hardly needs converting to the cause.
The company operates a busy schedule of rail services to and from the Port of Southampton. Its specialist trains carry cars, containers and bulks, on services linking Southampton’s Eastern and Western Docks with strategic locations across the UK.
In the Eastern Docks, DB’s focus is on cars. Roughly 100 trains a month bring Range Rover, Land Rover and Jaguar cars from Merseyside and the Midlands, and Minis from Oxford. The latter is an interesting success – Oxford may not have been considered for a train service before but up to 190 Minis can be loaded to one train, using double-deck wagons.
The port unloads the trains and puts the cars into these multideck car parks, ready for loading on to ships very quickly. It is an excellent model for exports. David Cross Acting Sector Head, Intermodal, at DB Cargo (UK)
ABP has invested over £30 million in the last five years developing multi-storey car parks. The five current multi-storey car storage facilities are vital in this export supply chain, says David Cross. “The port unloads the trains and puts the cars into these multi-storey car parks, ready for efficient loading on to one of the 1200 car carriers calling at the port each year.”
Two further car parks are currently under construction, cementing the ports position as the number one automotive port in the UK.
DB currently moves about 150,000 export cars a year through Southampton. As is the way with export-led trades, the trains often head back north empty for their next load – but not all of them.
DB Cargo also handles cars in the Western Docks, and with partners these are increasingly reloaded there with imported cars heading north as far as Scotland.
The main focus in the Western Docks is on containers, cars and bulks. 109 Berth is also where Solent Stevedores loads containers to DB Cargo trains, and it is here that a joint investment by ABP, Solent Stevedores and DB Cargo will allow DB Cargo to add new services to its current schedule.
At present, DB Cargo operates daily services to Trafford Park, Burton on Trent, Wakefield/Rotherham, Birmingham International Freight Terminal (for the Midlands) and Barry, in Wales.
“109 Berth is being upgraded and rebuilt, with new container handling equipment and a concrete loading pad; the whole operation will switch from sideloading to a reachstacker operation,” says David Cross. “It is a very exciting project – when it is complete in May, it will enable us to add at least one more full container train a day to the North of England. It is absolutely what is needed, allowing us to step up the number of boxes we move in and out of the port. The new equipment and loading pad will allow greater speed of loading and greater robustness, ultimately allowing us to run extra trains because we will be able to turn them round more quickly.”
DB is also focusing on new wagons, which can be close-coupled. “The secret of the modern wagons is to make sure there isn’t too much daylight between them,” explains David Cross. “We are looking to introduce more close-coupled wagons, which will enable a couple more round trip containers on each train without going beyond the length that Network Rail can accommodate.”
He says the rail option is not only being sought by forwarders and shipping lines – road transport companies are also booking containers on to rail because road haulage drivers are expensive and often in short supply.
ABP Commercial Manager Rebekah Keeler says: “We are very keen to increase the amount of cargo carried to and from the Port of Southampton by rail. With our partners we are proud to be increasing the number of container, automotive and bulk trains at the port.
“With an additional rail loading area at Western Docks, we will look to supplement the existing automotive services around other cargo flows; because of the way the upgrades have been designed and with the partnerships in place, we will be able to use it for multiple commodities. It is all about flexibility and dovetailing with other infrastructure in the Western Docks.”
Commercial Manager Ian Palacio adds: “The new reachstacker operations will be much swifter than sideloading, so it will be possible to handle an additional one or two trains a day. There is increasing demand for containers to be moved by rail; we are doing as much as we can to maximise this by improving the efficiency of the terminal and supporting DB Cargo.”