Lübeck, Duisburg, Ludwigshafen, Munich and Verona are the destinations served by the intermodal transport specialist Kombiverkehr and DB Cargo in the first stage of their MegaHub Lehrte project. The facility acts as a central distribution base, enabling the freight companies to link all these terminals together. Connections have been designed so that trains arrive between 8:00 pm and 6:00 am with minimal idle time. The next stage in the ramp-up process will begin in September 2021, when the freight operators will increase service frequencies and add new destinations.
The MegaHub blueprint for logistics projects
After several months of scheduled operations, it is time to take a look at what the future holds. Ulrich Bedacht, head of Kombiverkehr's northern Europe and German Baltic port business, is certain of one thing: "There is no doubt that the MegaHub is a flagship project for other sites that currently lack terminals of their own to connect the region. You could call it a logistics blueprint for all of Germany." Dieter Brinckmann, Key Account Management Kombiverkehr Carrier Sales Intermodal, knows what he wants to achieve with the MegaHub's capabilities in the two years before he retires: "We will coordinate with Kombiverkehr to successively increase the number of trains. At the same time, we will keep a close eye on customers' requirements, their service needs and the associated cargo flows. We will also increase MegaHub's European focus still further, by means of connections linking east and west, north and south."
The big advantage of the Lehrte hub is the way that trains enter the facility at one end and exit at the other. Terminals, as the word suggests, are traditionally designed as a terminus where the way in is also the way out. Things are different at Lehrte: trains arrive and depart without switching direction or locomotive, so speed is the site's trump card. Whereas at conventional terminal gateways, it is not uncommon for a consignment's journey to be interrupted for up to 12 hours, at Lehrte most cargo can "change trains" in less than three hours, cutting two-thirds off the time required for transhipment. “Our MegaHub is so successful because we have managed to perfect the complex management of timetables, traction, train paths and terminals to the point that trains arrive at the best possible time and never need to wait. This is a real challenge," Brinckmann says.
Ostermann: Short trips for pre- and onward carriage
Moritz Ostermann, managing director at Ostermann Transporte GmbH, confirms the MegaHub's benefits. "My company has specialised in transporting liquid loads around Europe for decades, and we started using intermodal traffic a number of years ago," he says. "We have added transports via the MegaHub near Hanover in the past few months. This has been doubly beneficial. We now have short pre- and onward carriage runs between Lehrte and our loading points in the region southwest of Hanover. Plus, we have access to fast hub services for our long-distance international traffic to Austria and Italy."
Ostermann has followed the site's development closely from the very start: "Communication is getting better all the time. The facility has well-rehearsed throughput times and convenient opening hours. We hope that more terminals will be connected to Lehrte in the coming months." With Lehrte having concentrated on making speed its hallmark when merging consignments arriving from different directions, Ostermann believes its goal should always be to set new standards for the rapid handling of incoming and outbound units and accelerate processes even further. "We're happy users of the facility and Kombiverkehr's new intermodal services, and we're really looking forward to the hub's growth and development," he says.
From Lehrte to destinations across Europe
The idea behind Lehrte was to create a fast transhipment facility using cranes to individually tranship incoming containers, semi-trailers and swap bodies, sorting consignments onto freight trains by destination. Like all good ideas, it took a while for this one to come to fruition. There had long been plans to select a site just outside Hanover as a central hub for rapid transhipment. Dieter Brinckmann's enthusiasm for this large-scale project is obvious as he recalls its origins: "Back then, combined transport had really taken off and we realised that we needed to do more. This was the start of a fascinating undertaking that I'm lucky to be part of."
Ulrich Bedacht has been at Kombiverkehr for 30 years. "It's fun to see a project like this working out and hitting its stride," he says. "Especially because, looking back, it wasn't always clear that it would succeed. It did in the end, because so many people pulled together."