Less noise at the Gotthard
The new Gotthard base tunnel will bring enormous increases in capacity for combined transport. The Swiss transport company Hupac is planning to establish a new business unit in preparation for the growing volume of traffic. It is simultaneously making substantial investments in low-noise rolling stock.
Trains are scheduled to run through the new Gotthard base tunnel, the first flat railway route on the north–south axis, from the end of 2016 onwards. The new Gotthard route will be 50 km shorter than the existing route, and can be transited by freight trains from end to end without multiple traction. «This will reduce costs, but it will also bring more competition into railfreight operations across the Alps,» Hupac board chairman Hans-Jörg Bertschi said at his company’s annual results media conference in Zurich.
However, the complete north–south axis will not reach its full capacity until 2020, when the Monte Ceneri base tunnel opens and the entire corridor has an uninterrupted 4 m profile. As the plans now stand, new passing tracks that will also bring further increases in productivity will not be ready until that date. They will be 750 m long (up from 550 m) and are needed for the operation of longer trains.
Hupac, one of the driving forces behind efforts to transfer traffic from the roads to the railways in Switzerland, is now urging the government to press ahead with upgrading the infrastructure faster than was originally planned, and to complete the work by 2017. Italy has already held out the prospect of completing the passing tracks on its territory by 2017, with Swiss financial support. The Busto Arsizio / Gallarate Hupac terminal, west of Milan, is also already equipped for long trains. And for the planned terminal at Smistamento, east of Milan, the combined transport operator has submitted a request for financial support to the Swiss transport department, together with its partners. If this is approved, Bertschi stated, then the terminal can begin operations in 2017 too.
Only low-noise trains from 2016
The combined transport operator also intends to make major investments in low-noise rolling stock. Hupac already acquired the first trains with so-called whisper brakes in the 1990s. From 2016 onwards, only low-noise freight wagons will be in operation.
Trains with composite plastic material brake pads are roughly 10 dB quieter than those with old metal brake shoes, which represents a reduction to about half of the subjective noise level. At the same time as re-equipping units with whisper brakes, Hupac is also planning to carry out tests with new disc brakes. These are expected to reduce noise levels by a further 5 dB (or 30%).
Hupac is currently also investing in a wagon fleet of its own in Russia. Bertschi said that a prototype 60 ft container wagon specially developed for Russia’s broad-gauge tracks has been in operation with Hupac’s Moscow-based subsidiary since last autumn. 100 wagons of this type have already been ordered, and are expected to be brought progressively into service on the east–west axis from mid-2014.
New company shuttle service
The intermodal operator sees new market opportunities for its new product called company shuttle. From next autumn Hupac wants to organise blocktrains for customers who are willing to bear the capacity-utilisation risk themselves. «The product meets a growing need. More and more transporters have a sufficient volume for blocktrains,» Bertschi explained. The introduction of the company shuttle is an extension of Hupac’s slot concept, which was introduced in 2003 and which enabled customers to reserve a certain number of slots on a firm basis.
Hupac director Bernhard Kunz has observed growing interest in multimodal transport among West European forwarders. They see a way of maintaining their ability to compete against East European carriers and their low-wage drivers by increasingly transferring traffic from the roads to the railways. By making greater use of combined transport they can keep their lorry fleet available for local transport solutions.
Kunz described the 2013 business year as satisfactory. Hupac increased its turnover by 5.7% compared with the preceding year, and generated revenues of CHF 480 million. Its net profit came to CHF 6.6 million (+50%). Transport volumes increased by 1.7%, with a total of 656,877 road shipments handled. In transalpine transport, the company’s core business, the carrier transported a total of 380,502 consignments last year, representing an increase of 1.9% over the previous year.