A reservation for Friday
The Rhine is one of the most-used inland waterways in the world. The number of containers transported on the river to and from the western ports continues to rise. The Swiss inland ports on the Rhine and the partners in the association Rhein Ports Basel-Mulhouse-Weil are now setting up a trinational capacity management system to help prevent bottlenecks.
Hans-Peter Hadorn is satisfied: «2012 was a good year for us,» says the director of the port of Switzerland (SRH), the operator of inland ports on the River Rhine in Basel. The hubs’ throughput in the container segment last year amounted to 102,240 teu, an improvement of 10% in comparison with the previous year (see ITJ 07-08/2013, page 12). The firm’s projections for the next few years are equally promising. «We think that container volumes on the Rhine will continue to rise in the foreseeable future,» Hadorn adds. «The operating licences for certain new terminals, such as the facility on the Maasvlakte 2 in Rotterdam and others in Antwerp, stipulate the use of inland barges and the railways.»
More boxes – more problems
Growing cargo volumes also create problems, however, above all because box transportation is naturally not evenly distributed across a working week. «Traffic is most intense on Fridays, because that is when services to the seaports depart,» Hadorn explains. The result is that under certain circumstances there is congestion in the terminals, which leads to additional waiting periods, an increased likelihood of interruptions and less reliable planning. Currently there is no fixed time frame for processing individual vessels at any of the terminals. Berth allocation is carried out very much on an ad hoc basis.
Now port of Switzerland, in cooperation with the ports of Mulhouse (France) and Weil am Rhein (Germany), want to change this state of affairs. By mid-2014, the ports, want to use their trinational association RheinPorts, which was founded in 2007, to develop a common IT platform that will act as a reservation system for capacity management at the respective terminal. All parties stand to benefit, as the system should result in better management of handling capacities at peak periods, improved planning and greater reliability for container transports. Inland shipping providers and terminals are to be given access to a central IT platform that is connected to all locations, so that ship masters or operators can apply for a free time window.
Quite a lot of water will flow down the Rhine until the projected introduction of this IT platform in 2015. However, another improvement is waiting in the pipeline for the coming year. Plans have been forged to open the southern Rhine ports of Birsfelden and Auhafen Muttenz to vessels with a length of 135 m. The size of vessel has so far been restricted to a mximum length of 110 m.
In order to change this situation, the SRH has launched a project to allow inland vessels with a length of 135 m to dock at these Rhine ports under certain conditions. To date, this idea could not be implented because of security requirements. A vessel’s passage under the arches of the bridges in the city of Basel is subject to exacting safety regulations. The first trial runs are due to start after simulations have proved successful. Should the tests succeed, 135 m long vessels will be able to pass through the lock in Birsfelden from 2014. This will be another cause for gratification at the SRH.