Antwerp: a multimodal freight village for chemical industry

The port of Antwerp should become a multimodal logistics hub with innovative rail solutions for the chemical industry. A new automated pallet loading system for trains is one such solutions. Those are the conclusions of a joint research project, where the Belgian chemical and rail freight industry got their heads together on how to facilitate the modal shift to rail in the chemical sector.

The project is called European LessThanWagonLoad and was carried out by the Belgian chemical industry federation essenscia and a consortium of rail freight players, led by operator Lineas. It was supported by the European Commission. The main aim was to find innovative solutions that facilitate the modal shift of chemical transport from road to rail, taking into account the strict security and safety standards for the transport of potentially dangerous goods.

Multimodal freight village in Antwerp

The study looked at developing the Antwerp Main Hub into a true multimodal freight village specifically aimed at the Port of Antwerp’s chemical cluster. The new concept features added-value rail services such as cross-docking pallet warehouses, repair and picking services, advanced cleaning services for chemical wagons, trucks and tank containers, and improved rail connections that combine both conventional and intermodal volumes. These specialised services can remove barriers and reduce the cost of using rail freight.

“The chemical industry has been making efforts to realise a modal shift for several years already. Less than 30 per cent of the transport volumes in the sector are transported by road. Nevertheless, our ambition is loud and clear: even more transport by rail and less by road. That is not so much a question of infrastructure or investments, but mainly about a different mind-set facilitating collaboration and digitization”, says Yves Verschueren, Managing Director of essenscia.

Port of Antwerp

Automated pallet loading system

The consortium also revealed the prototype of the Automated Wagon Loading System (AWLS). Inspired by automated truck loading systems, the system makes it possible to load automatically 15 pallets onto a train wagon. Whereas traditional rail transport typically consists of full containers or wagons, it hereby taps into smaller quantities of chemical products, which currently rely on road transport but can be moved to trains.

“If we want to convince customers to shift from road to rail, we have to make it as easy as possible. Already our Green Xpress Network is allowing customers to get on rail starting from a single container or wagon. With the AWLS technology, we are further decreasing this threshold to even smaller loads”, adds Geert Pauwels, CEO of Lineas.

Call for Belgian Rail Freight Masterplan

At the event, Geert Pauwels – on behalf of the Belgian Rail Freight Forum – also called for broad collaboration between both industry and political partners to develop an ambitious Rail Freight Masterplan for Belgium. Referring to existing masterplans in neighbouring countries, Pauwels highlighted that innovation within the rail freight sector alone would not be enough to realise the modal shift.

“We cannot stay behind as a country. It is time to be very ambitious and deliver a Rail Freight Masterplan for Belgium that will safeguard and boost our country as logistical hub in Europe. There is no time for half-hearted plans or lukewarm ideas. We need to be bold and make it happen.”

Author: Majorie van Leijen

Majorie van Leijen is the editor-in-chief of, the online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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