The big picture in a small country
The transition was completed smoothly at the end of 2017. Martin Ticks succeeded Rolf Vogt as the CEO of the Birsterminal, near Basel (Switzerland). In conversation with the ITJ’s Christian Doepgen they described the many activities taking place in Basel’s southern port compound – some distance from the future Basel Nord facility – and the opportunities land reserves and dry bulk cargo offer.
Setting up a company succession is never easy, is it, gentlemen? How did you arrive at your solution?
Rolf Vogt: The aim, also of our co-owners in the UK, was always to continue to operate the Birsterminal as a family firm. The question was – will we find a new boss? Happily, the answer was yes!
Rolf Vogt and I have known each other for 15 years. Basel isn’t so big, you see, so I already knew all the good things there are to know about Birsterminal. One key factor in the equation is that there isn’t much free space for port facilities in the Basel region – especially not in the city itself. Birsfelden, in contrast, just outside the city limits, has a few aces up its sleeve.
There’s going to be massive changes in the port environment in Basel through to 2029. What is your potential?
Rolf Vogt: All the talk these days is of the new Basel Nord container terminal – but there’s plenty afoot in Birsfelden and Muttenz, too! A dedicated spur for the port railway is under construction. All of the region’s tank depots have been concentrated there since January 2017, supplying one third of the nation’s demand. New industrial plants are continuing to come up in Schweizerhalle and Salina Raurica. Coop’s new chocolate factory there will have its own locomotive to shift goods to the inland port.
Martin Ticks: These developments are all very promising. This is why the inland ports on the Rhine are deepening the fairway in 2018, so that these hubs can be reached more easily.
How did you react to increased demand arising from the major railway line closure in Rastatt last year?
Rolf Vogt: We reacted promptly and within three weeks had chartered a ship that we deployed on the river Rhine, in addition to our two weekly barge services.
Martin Ticks: We relished the opportunity to show the great possibilities the inland waterways offer, in comparison with other modes of transport. Only time will tell whether the additional demand that was met is sustainable in the long term.
What are your re-zoning plans?
Martin Ticks: We’re planning to use the former coal-handling compound for second-hand materials. Shipping them out for recycling makes more sense and is better for the environment than storing them in waste disposal sites, which have finite capacities, after all. We expect great demand from the Netherlands in the next ten years.
Rolf Vogt: The authorities have welcomed this project. We, in turn, have invested, to make sure we can handle these tasks in an environment-friendly way.
What volume are we talking about?
Martin Ticks: 100,000 to 150 000 t annually from clean breakdowns is easily possible, for example. We expect the overall volume in the asphalt segment to be substantially greater.
Your six business units include a heavylift transport division. What can Birsterminal offer its clients in this field?
Martin Ticks: We’ve got the in-house professionals and experts on hand to offer our customers every service the may require, including handling conventional goods that won’t fit in a container, and securing the loads in their boxes, amongst other things.
Rolf Vogt: We also send our employees out to external training courses, to Rotterdam, amongst other places, to keep the team’s knowledge up to date.
Martin Ticks: Our covered areas score highly in the project logistics segment. Not everyone can provide this service. We’ve invested there too, in readiness for special needs. We can easily handle heavylift consignments weighing up to 100 t there.
Birsterminal is lucky enough to have spare land available in its compound. What opportunities does this present?
Martin Ticks: There are attractive possibilities in both directions. On the export side we could encourage manufacturers to settle there, and support the connection of their activities directly to shipping services via the Birsterminal. Naturally, the same applies to the import side of the equation too.
Rolf Vogt: These unused areas are also candidates for logistics distribution projects. We’re cooperating with companies to find our own solutions there.
What are your prospects through to 2020?
Martin Ticks: We’ll focus on improving our waterborne activities and making the best of our land reserves. I’m lucky enough to be taking up a very strong legacy.