Rail transport in port of Hamburg feels the brunt of shipping delays

Rail transport to and from the port of Hamburg is facing difficulties, as the delays of shipping lines continue and port facilities are consumed to the maximum. Various rail freight operators have warned for delays and additional costs.

It is a problem dominating sea shipping around the world at the moment, but the effects are felt throughout the entire supply chain. “In Hamburg, the persistent ship delays are currently averaging one week, but in some cases considerably more. This means that the dwell time of export containers is increasing significantly”, says a spokesperson of HHLA, terminal operator in the port.

Handling bottlenecks

This dwell time translates into various problems, starting with the storage facilities and not ending with the departures of the many trains that connect the port with the hinterland. “Due to the sustained high level of parking space utilisation at the sea and inland terminals, deliveries of export containers are strictly regulated”, explains Eurogate, another large terminal operator.

This means, among others, limitations in the loading and unloading of trains. Domestic transshipment operations are also overcrowded and acceptance stops are being issued more and more, so that delivery is only possible on the day of dispatch by rail”, writes Eurogate to its customers. Zippel, another operator, adds to that: The container warehouse at the Waltershof port terminals are still more than 100 per cent full. Accordingly, all trains are loaded and unloaded with massive delays.”

Counter measures

In order to cope with the bottlenecks, HHLA says to implement several measures: “A strict inflow control of export cargo for notified ships calls, additional storage space for containers and additional use of resources (for example in rail handling). In this way we ensure that handling activities for all modes of transport (ship, rail, truck) continue to run as smoothly as possible even under these challenging conditions.”

Similarly, Eurogate is trying to minimise space utilisation, for example by carrying out loads that were not yet intended for dispatch, it mentioned. Nevertheless, additional costs cannot be avoided, according to rail operators. Additional storage and handling fees are charged to the rail customer, and the operators are not deemed liable for these damages suffered.

Worldwide delays

International container shipping is currently characterised by ship delays on the main routes worldwide. These are caused by disproportionate demand for transport capacity and empty container shortages, triggered by pandemic-related catch-up effects and changed consumer behaviour, explains HHLA.

Like many other ports, the port of Hamburg was hit by the coronavirus in 2020, but mostly in the first half of the year. Total throughput in 2020 amounted to 126.3 million tonnes, 7.6 per cent below the total of 136.6 million tonnes reached in the previous year. “The first six months were notable for reduced activity in many areas of the economy, weaker consumer demand, and a reduction in liner service sailings. In Hamburg, this caused a double-digit downturn in throughput. We are delighted that the second half brought a turnaround, with the total throughput in 2020 showing only a single-digit minus,” explained Axel Mattern, Joint CEO of Port of Hamburg Marketing (HHM).

Rail in the port

However, and also in line with the general trend, rail freight transport was least affected. In 2020 Hamburg’s seaport-hinterland transport by rail accounted for a volume of 46.6 million tonnes and 2.6 million TEU, showing a 4.4 per cent decrease, considerably smaller than the drop in container throughput as a whole.

“In terms of volume, 2020 was the third-best year, and in terms of the number of containers carried it was the second-best year in the history of the Hamburg Port Railway,” Mattern said. The railway was even able to increase its share of the modal split in seaport-hinterland traffic by 1.3 percent to 50.7 percent.”

Author: Majorie van Leijen

Majorie van Leijen is editor of RailFreight.com, online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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