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Special consignments: should heavy goods be transported by rail?

We are adept at handling bulky and heavy consignments. That is because rail is a much better way of handling regular or Europe-wide special consignments than road transport.

 The greatest feat of the logistics industry

Without a doubt, transporting transformers is one of the most complex operations the logistics industry handles. It involves moving transformers weighing hundreds of tonnes to their destination, while ensuring safety and on-time arrival. If this sensitive equipment is damaged, the costs can be enormous, as can the harm to tracks, infrastructure and buildings in the transformers’ path.

“Transporting heavy loads is the greatest feat of the logistics industry,” says Thomas Müller, project manager for heavy load transport at DB Cargo Industrial Sales. “Safety is our number one priority when handling these loads.” Müller has worked in special transport for almost eight years and knows the business well. When transporting transformers, DB Cargo works with DAHER PROJECTS GmbH, a project logistics company and freight forwarder for energy suppliers and transmission grid operators. DAHER provides the special wagons needed for heavy transport. Whenever a transformer is transported, it is accompanied by a specially trained team.


Exceptional consignment

At the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019, heavy load transport services were provided for Amprion, a transmission network operator based in Dortmund. Two transformers needed transporting from Krefeld, a city in Germany’s lower Rhine region, to a new traction substation in Bacharach, some 200 km to the south. Planning for the two transports had been completed many months in advance. To comply with requirements, a special permit was applied for and the railway route was inspected. Specialists measured the height and width of all rail platforms on the route. Their calculations took into account specifications for overhead lines, points, signals and cabinets adjacent to the tracks. The angles of the curves and the tilt of the track were examined to determine the feasibility of this “exceptional consignment”, as this outsized transport is known in DB parlance. Starting in Krefeld, the train proceeded along the Rhine river, then toward Mainz and onward in the direction of Langenlonsheim. There, the train turned onto an old, defunct route known as the Hunsrückbahn. This route was reactivated specifically to accommodate this transport effort. Four thousand tonnes of ballast were laid down and numerous bridges were reinforced or renovated along the route. The transformers arrived on time at Stromberg station. A lowboy trailer stood waiting there to carry each transformer the last few kilometres to the traction substation.


Transport with a deadline

Each transformer, weighing 300 tonnes and measuring 11 metres in length, was transported on a Schnabel wagon, which runs on 32 axles. The transformers were suspended between two lifting arms. Using hydraulics, the two arms move the transformer vertically and horizontally to lift it over obstacles such as railway platforms. Whereas transporting transformers by road means closing entire lengths of highway, transport by rail is practically invisible. It takes place at night or at other times when the network has a great deal of free capacity. At peak times, the wagons being used for transport are parked in a safe location. “Heavy load transport is not about speed, but about meeting a deadline. This means we aren’t concerned with how fast we can get there, but instead about reaching the destination at the scheduled time.” Only then is the complete transport chain working. Another advantage of rail transport is that it produces an average of 75% less carbon dioxide than lorry transport. Safety is yet another benefit – rail is the safest mode of land transport. As the transition to sustainable power progresses, the need for transformer transports is expected to rise. More and more electricity generated by wind farms in the northern reaches of Germany is being funnelled long distances to supply industry in the southern and western regions of the country. Energy companies therefore need to invest in higher-performance transformers. “DB Cargo is a reliable partner for safe and on-time transformer transport,” says Thomas Müller. “We will help to continue the transition to sustainable power.”