“It’s essential to earn our money”
Erich Staake has developed the German facility in Duisport into the largest inland port in Europe in two decades. Duisport is now only still a port in a small way; it’s simultaneously home to numerous large companies and is also a laboratory for start-ups. So Staake isn’t too worried to be facing a bit of a downturn; he’s confident rather than pessimistic.
You’re set to be admitted to Germany’s Logistics Hall of Fame, Mr Staake. What does this honour mean to you?
When I look at the list of names that have been inducted so far, then this feels like a great honour. The hall has honoured greats such as Michael Kühne and Gottlieb Daimler. Many are awarded an accolade or the other, but becoming a member of the Logistics Hall of Fame – now that’s something rather special in my book.
Duisport recorded a slight decline in the volumes it handled in the first half of the year. What’s the situation right now?
This slight decline, which was to be expected somewhat, I have to admit, will probably remain a fact through to the end of this year. We’ve grown strongly in the past, but we’re still undergoing ongoing structural change here in Duisburg.
Now we’re worried about the steel industry, because the steel sector is doing badly globally. The automotive sector has developed very well of late, but we’re nevertheless feeling the effects of lower volumes in this segment. The chemical industry, which is strong in Duisburg and is largely a supplier to the automotive industry, is also affected by this trend. All this is a bit of a challenge – we can’t escape reality.
How have you reacted?
Always try something new. I always see a crisis as an opportunity too. During the downturn of 2008 – 2009 we hardly lost at all, and even gained a degree of market shares. We’re going to try that again now. It’s our good luck to be so broadly positioned, and we’ll remain so too.
The port’s core business still accounts for 22% of our sales income. Many of the investments we made over the past years are now yielding profits. Whether the volumes increase or decrease a little isn’t the key factor. What’s essential is that we manage to earn our money.
Duisburg was a pioneer with the launch of railway links to and from China. Now everyone wants a piece of the same pie. How do you manage to maintain your leading position?
Competitors keep trying to steal a service off us, but our advantage is that we maintain partnerships with all of the relevant players. A dozen firms are involved in operating a train that runs between Chongqing and Duisburg. State railways, operators, terminals and the like. Cooperation is indispensable to achieve greater efficiency.
In what fields is Duisburg involved?
We’re on the verge of acquiring a stake in the largest company in China, which operates many of the most important railway stations. On top of this we want to operate our own company on the stretch between the Polish-Belarusian border and Duisburg from the beginning of 2020 onwards. We’ve established this entity with partners from Poland, Russia and China. Our aim is to present a better alternative to the current situation.
Is reaching transit times of ten days one of your goals?
That’s the benchmark, that’s right. Currently a run from Chongqing to the Polish-Belarusian border takes about eight days, which covers 90% of the distance. The trains cross the Central Asian plain at speeds of 120 km / h – that’s exemplary. After that it takes us the same time again to cross Europe. That section should really be possible in two days.
We’d like to open some new border crossings, to decongest operations and to prevent everything from concentrating on the Brest / Małaszewicze crossing. We’re cooperating with the Polish state-owned railway PKP to this end.
Will the boom in trains coming from China continue, do you think?
The enormous growth has come to a standstill for now, because China has reduced its subsidies. At the moment trains run from about two dozen provinces to the west, but I expect that to change. Last year they still sent some empty trains to Europe, just to outdo each other! Such nonsense has to come to an end of course.
What does this mean for Duisport?
It’s important for us that we’re closely linked to those platforms and provinces that will continue to play an important role in the future. We also exchange ideas with China Railways, that is to say its intermodal subsidiary, which is of great importance, of course.
When you came to Duisburg 21 years ago the port was practically dead in the water. What will Duisport look like in 2040?
I don’t know – I might not even be alive then! I’ll retain my role here for a few more years now, but I’ve already set out a broad variety of options for the future that Duisport certainly has good prospects.
We’re in the process of a digital transformation, which calls for a lot of work. I’m confident, however, that our portfolio is well-positioned.