Two recent construction projects have almost become household names in Germany: the Filder Tunnel on the new rail line connecting Stuttgart and Ulm, and the bridge connecting Mainz and Wiesbaden at Schierstein.
Both undertakings entailed the installation of massive pre-cast concrete components manufactured by Max Bögl, a company based in the central Bavarian town of Neumarkt in der Oberpfalz. Using rail transport did away with the need for scores of truck journeys, which not only resulted in an impressively low carbon footprint, but also reduced the pressure on a road infrastructure already bursting at the seams.
At over 9 km in length, the Filder Tunnel needed some 600,000 tonnes of curved cladding for its internal walls. Each of the concrete rings used to build the tunnel weighs an impressive 93.3 tonnes and is composed of seven individual segments. DB Cargo used a six-axle flat wagon to transport a full ring – by road, each ring would have needed three and a half trucks. A train consisting of over 20 wagons enabled DB Cargo to move 20 rings, weighing a total of 1,866 tonnes, at the same time. This was equivalent to 70 HGV journeys.
DB Cargo account manager Otto Fiedler does the maths: "Though the trains had to cover an extra 20 km, they used less than half the energy that trucks would have consumed. This cut CO2 emissions by almost 5,500 tonnes."
Constructing the Filder Tunnel was a difficult undertaking, but over the course of four years, this highly efficient logistics concept formed the basis of a reliable supply system that met the needs of all the parties involved.
The five supports for the bridge at Schierstein posed a challenge of a very different kind for DB Cargo. Each support was almost 30 meters long, weighed up to 100 tonnes and required a special carriage permit before transport could begin. A train brought the supports to Wiesbaden Ost, with three wagons necessary to carry each support. "The supports' dimensions put them at the upper limit of what we could transport, so we had to close the lines to traffic in the opposite direction – something that was only possible at night. At one particular location, clearance was so tight that the train had to proceed at walking speed under the close supervision of DB Netz staff," recalls customer advisor Otto Fiedler.
If they had gone by road, the supports would have needed several special transports and permits. The roadworks dotting the motorway route would have been impossible to negotiate given the cargo's sheer size. This would have made long detours necessary, pushing costs up considerably.
These are just two examples of DB Cargo's skill at organising and handling transports for ultra-heavy loads over long distances. The minimal impact in terms of the climate and environment is another compelling argument for the use of rail-based logistics, even for highly unusual freight.