50 years – and good future prospects
Half a century is a good and solid age. The intermodal operator Hupac, which is headquartered in Switzerland, made the best of its anniversary to not only stage a wonderful party in Lucerne and gift itself with a 50th birthday present of its own, but simultaneously staged a conference that looked to future challenges. Christian Doepgen joined the international audience in nigh-on tropical Lucerne.
The managers in charge of Hupac could not have asked for more – the previous year’s solid result and the glorious weather represented the perfect setting for the intermodal operator to celebrate the 50th time that that day of the year returned when it was founded in June 1967. 50 years ago five Swiss entrepreneurs – including the Swiss state-owned railway SBB – brought the brothers roads and the railways together for trans-Alpine operations. Modest beginnings have been turned into success. Today the Chiasso-based Swiss company has 440 employees and generates sales worth around CHF 470 million.
Beni Kunz, managing director of the Hupac group, cited the five operational pillars of Hupac’s business success – a clear strategy, direct re-investment, innovations such as the firm’s shuttle train or gateway concepts, proximity to its clients and well-trained staff. Adolf Ogi, a former member of the Swiss government and considered the ‘father of the NRLA’ (New Rail Link through the Alps) as transport minister from 1988 to 1995, described how it was possible to convince the country’s European neighbours of its goals. He also pointed out that the building of efficient feeder lines to and from the NRLA remains the task of the route’s littoral states.
Hupac’s managers are clear about the challenges facing them. Hans-Jörg Bertschi, the president of the board of directors, pointed out that with regard to digitalisation, “road is a tough competitor for rail. Platooning, automated driving and Uber-like platforms will allow the road haulage sector to save up to 30% of its costs over the next ten years. The railways, in contrast, are frequently not yet capable of exploiting their wealth of data to increase productivity.” There is thus no dearth of tasks for the managers.
A record year
The party mood was buoyed by the fact that Hupac had a record year in 2016. It transported more than 737,000 road consignments, or 11.5% more than in 2015. The company has done its homework since the minimum exchange rate regime for the Swiss franc to the euro ended at the beginning of 2015. About 110 Hupac trains ran on European, Russian and Far Eastern tracks every day.
In its core market of trans-Alpine rail operations through Switzerland, Hupac handled approximately 452,000 lorries and trailers, an impressive 19.4% improvement. Bertschi pointed out that “in 2016, less than 1 million lorries crossed the Swiss Alps by road for the first time in 20 years – thanks also to Hupac.”
In 2016 the firm’s turnover rose by 10% to CHF 470.3 million, its result was 5.3% better at CHF 105.3 million, and its net profits were up by 78% to CHF 10.8 million. Every segment thus contributed to the company’s best-ever result. Bertschi added that operations in the Gotthard base tunnel, which opened for freight trains in December 2016, are running smoothly. The full benefit of the new tunnel will kick in when the Ceneri base tunnel opens in 2020.
A broader portfolio
The good result was also down to the fact that Hupac has improved the range of services it offers. It launched new trains in its ‘shuttle net’ intermodal network, namely between Venlo and Busto Arsizio, Zeebrugge and Novara and Rotterdam and Brescia. A Le Havre–Ludwigshafen shuttle was also launched for the French market in September. The 4 m trailer segment on the route from the Benelux countries through Germany to Italy via the Lötschberg / Simplon has also developed well. Hupac’s ‘company shuttle’ unit, for large consumer goods clients, also grew.
Services to and from China are also progressing well. Hupac’s Shanghai branch, which was set up in 2016, has launched its first services. At the end of May a Hupac blocktrain rolled from the northwestern Chinese city of Korla to Germany and France, carrying 82 tank containers across six countries. June saw the launch of a regular shuttle train connecting Ludwigshafen and Brest / Małaszewicze, with the objective of creating a permanent connection to and from China for the network. Hupac additionally has plans to gear up for the future by investing substantially in new terminals, wagons and vehicles.
Hupac’s ‘Future of mobility’ conference focused on digitalisation.
Photos: Hupac / C. Doepgen