Germany’s Kombiverkehr reports good intermodal figures and environmental targets achieved

Kombiverkehr, the Frankfurt headquartered specialist in international rail-based intermodal transport, has reported a list of good figures and ambitions achieved. Despite some sector downturns due to economic factors and the effects of coronavirus, the company reported strong growth in a number of European markets. It has also reported good progress on climate change initiatives, and a solid plan for the future, whatever may come their way.

The company has just published figures for the 2019 financial year. They reported consignment volumes affected by an economic downturn in the chemical and automotive industries, but overall improvements until the Spring of this year. During the quarter, they lost a reported 15 per cent of volumes across the network as a whole in the months of April and May, due to the pandemic and subsequent economic collapse, but have answers to recover lost ground.

Good news on international flows

The overall figures may have caught the headlines, but the news for Kombiverkehr is otherwise generally good. They performed against trend by returning up to double-digit growth on services between Germany and destinations in Sweden, Spain, Denmark and Hungary. The company has since seen stability in the network, and introduced initiatives, such as contactless transport processing, which have helped consolidate their post-pandemic position.

The company finished the financial year having transported a total of almost 900,000 truck consignments by rail, representing a total transport tonnage of more than 20 million gross metric tons.

Green credentials and return on investment

Company analysis claims that their operations, particularly combined transport where rail does the long distance lifting, saved more than one million tons of carbon dioxide, against an equivalent incurred by end-to-end road transport.

Kombiverkehr moved 884,168 semitrailers, swap bodies and containers from road and sea to rail in the 2019, and aims to open new market segments, particularly chemicals, in 2020 (Kombiverkehr)

The company operates around 170 shuttle trains every day, one of the largest and densest intermodal networks in Europe they say. Trains move for an average routing of 825km, and their 129 full-time equivalent staff achieved sales of 411 million euros.

“As a Europe-wide operator, we can’t isolate ourselves from the general trend”, said Robert Breuhahn, one of the company’s managing directors. “Despite the downward trend in volumes, we have managed to keep our extensive intermodal network operating for the benefit of forwarders and carriers in a highly competitive market environment.”

Weather, strikes and pandemics

The past year has seen a number of exceptional circumstances, including weather-related issues in the high Alpine passes and industrial action which paralysed the French network during last year.

However, given the extent of operations, Kombiverkehr’s management is pleased overall with performance. “Seen in the round, our services are running relatively well given the difficult situation in logistics at the moment”, observed Breuhahn. “Although we are adapting train departures to the notified daily volumes at short notice, we aren’t leaving any customers in the lurch.”

Recovering lost volume

The sharp increase in freight capacity due to the corona crisis and the associated collapse in prices on the road will make it difficult for the company to recover the lost volume in the second half of 2020 and very likely going into 2021 as well, notes the managing directors’ report.

“Although the significant improvement in the quality of service on rail will enable us to persuade the odd new customer to shift some of their consignments from road to eco-friendly rail, it is already clear that combined transport can only be competitive if the quality of service and the prices we can offer users remain attractive in the long term”, said Breuhahn. “We will therefore do all that we can on behalf of our customers to work with the relevant railway operating companies to develop solutions that are financially viable and sustainable.”

Intermodal transport strengthened as industry recovers

The company says that the coronavirus outbreak has demonstrated once and for all that rail freight transport, and combined transport in particular, is the stable and crisis-proof backbone of goods traffic. ”As things pick up again we must take the opportunity to remodel freight transport in Germany and strengthen the climate-friendly, ecologically-responsible alternatives”, reported Armin Riedl, also a managing director at the company.

One of 110 shuttle trains a week that Kombiverkehr is running via the Brenner Pass between Germany’s industrial centres and northern Italy (Kombiverkehr image)

Demanding German national and Europe-wide climate goals are seen as an opportunity, but an opportunity that requires parity between the different modes of transport, particularly where alternative-fuelled road transport is seen by the company as significantly subsidised. Reidl would like to see combined transport, centred on rail for the long leg, to be better treated by national and cross-border administrations. “We are therefore calling for an exemption from toll charges for the initial and final legs, subsidies for shipments by rail, through a reduction in terminal fees, and initial financing to encourage the shift to combined transport”, he says. “Now is precisely the time to seize the opportunity to strengthen the safest and most environmentally friendly mode of ground transportation.”

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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