“Demanding and flexible”
Railfreight operations didn’t improve everywhere in the intermodal split last year. The picture is positive for the Salzburg-based rail transporter Salzburger Eisenbahn Transport Logistik (SETG), which is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its establishment in 2021. Founder and CEO Gunther Pitterka has great plans for haulage, customers and technology. He told Christian Doepgen about his ideas.
How did business go for SETG in 2020, Mr Pitterka, in terms of turnover and the volume of goods transported?
After a temporary decline of around 12% in April, May and June, we again recorded significant growth from July onwards. So we’ll close 2020 with almost the same result as we achieved in 2019, that is to say around 4 million t of goods transported. Approximately 40% thereof consisted of forest products (logs, sawn timber, wood chips), 30% was accounted for by container transports, and 10% by slurry trains. All other goods made up the remaining 20%. In 2020 the volumes we transported increased slightly, in the single-digit range.
What units is your fleet made up of?
We operate 56 locomotives, primarily 193 and 187 series electric engines (dual power locomotives). We also have ER20s, G1700s, V100 east / west units and V6 west diesel locos. We deployed one more electric locomotive and three more diesel locomotives (V100s) last year compared with 2019. Around 600 wagons for containers and logs are also part of our fleet.
How are your individual segments – containers, steel, timber – developing?
Container transport volumes suffered slight declines from early April through to around June; but have now recovered in terms of volumes. We handled stable quantities of timber, fertiliser and slurry.
Has the total number of blocktrains you ran remained stable overall?
No – it’s improved. We managed to increase it by a low single-digit figure. 2020 saw us operate around 6,000 blocktrains.
Single wagon and groupage transport concepts are complicated. What experience have you gathered with ‘SETG’s International Goods Logistics Express Link’ (SINGLE Link)?
We run trains on the Freilassing–Hallein–Ljubljana–Koper route, where demand is high. Organising such services is demanding and characterised by a great need for flexibility. The diversion due to the closure of the Karawanks tunnel is a challenge in terms of organisation and profitability.
You also offer consultancy and economic feasibility studies for customers preparing for logistics operations. How is demand developing in this field?
We offer these solutions primarily in the context of constructing or expanding feeder line operations. There isn’t regular demand, but over the years we’ve been able to advise our clients on how to optimise facilities. Subsequently we’re then often involved in operations.
Have you been subject to any staffing bottlenecks? For example amongst certain groups of employees?
We’ve reacted to the conspicuous shortage of skilled workers – especially train drivers – by establishing our ‘SETG Railway Academy’ in Salzburg. We train engine drivers for Austria and Germany in two classes there. This is our reaction to the increasing shortage of train drivers; at the same time it raises our training standards. We also have a practice track there, where trainees can take their first shunting steps.
You founded SETG, and are now set to celebrate your 20th anniversary in 2021. What plans do you have for the future?
We’re set to invest more in rolling stock over the next few years, and to estab-
lish our own workshop too. Soon all four ECM levels will be covered in-house. Licences and safety certificates in other countries are also in the pipeline. Our in-house railway academy will be expanded. We’ve already extended the premises and will also be able to offer training for third parties as well as for other railway professions in the future.
What are your values and goals?
I try to live up to values such as respect and appreciation, to promote employees’ creativity, and to invest our corporate success in ‘Help2Develop’ support projects. I’m very grateful for my ‘gross personal happiness’. I’m a travel freak; one of my goals is to visit every country in the world. My tally now stands at 179.
SETG is now a well-structured, privately-owned medium-sized group that I intend to make even broader by investing in assets, a workshop, software, employees.