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30 years of success at BTT

DB Cargo BTT is a success story spanning the past 30 years. The company's founding was inspired by a tragic occurrence, namely a tanker accident in the German town of Herborn.

In 1987, the brakes failed on a tanker carrying petrol and diesel as it sped into a town in the German state of Hesse and overturned. A total of 34,000 litres of fuel ran into the streets and sewers. In the resulting explosion, six people died and 38 were injured. Twelve houses were destroyed by fire. Two years later, Bahn Tank Transport GmbH (BTT) was founded with a mission to use combined transport solutions to shift the transport of dangerous goods from the road to the rails. Karl-Heinz Rossmann was one of the company's founders. Now 71, Mr Rossman agreed to an interview with railways to commemorate the founding of the company.

Mr Rossmann, what do you remember about the accident? And how did BTT come to be founded?

The accident was, of course, a huge shock, and it led to a discussion about how to prevent something like that from ever happening again. At the time, Deutsche Bundesbahn had large-scale operations transporting dangerous goods by tank car. However, the Management Board wanted us to look into whether there was a feasible business model for combined transport and what conditions would need to be in place for it to work. I joined the four-person project team because my job in corporate sales management related to chemicals and I also had experience partnering with a chemicals company. We came up with a model which the Management Board approved. I felt it was important to implement the theoretical model we had developed. I was passionate about my work in this area and that's why I transferred to BTT in 1989.

Did you develop new safety policies or was the existing policy enough?

At first, the policy we had in place was enough. Of course, new laws were always being passed which we then had to comply with, as did all market participants, and we immediately integrated changes as they were made.

Five different companies came together to found BTT: four private freight forwarders and TFG Transfracht, a DB subsidiary. How did these companies decide to work together?

We provided the impetus for founding the new company. We knew we could provide the rail side of things, but we also needed partners who had expertise on the road. Lorries would handle pre-carriage and onward carriage in combined transport. TFG Transfracht, the DB subsidiary, had a 50% share of the new company and the other partners held 12.5% each. The process of founding the company wasn't easy and there was a lot of negotiating.

  • DB Cargo BTT was founded in 1989 as Bahn Tank Transport GmbH.
  • Since 1994, it has been a wholly owned DB subsidiary.
  • Managing directors: Jens Nöldner (CEO) and Berthold Jesse (CFO)
  • The company now has 150 employees at four locations.
  • It arranges 13,000 block train transports and over 260,000 single-wagon shipments per year.

When the company started operations, two years had passed since the accident. How did the business get off the ground?

We got off to a slow start. Manufacturers of dangerous goods aren't quick to contract with a newcomer. They want to be sure processes and interfaces are working smoothly in the combined transport chain. This meant we had to do a lot of PR work beforehand. At the outset, customers gave us small contracts to see how well we performed. We were practically able to stand there and watch as each shipment came in. After the test phase, we contracted with our first major customer in Frankfurt, which was a big turning point for us. Eventually, we added customers in the chemicals industry. Business grew steadily and it wasn't long before we invested in our own tank container equipment.

When BTT entered the market, it acted as a catalyst for other tank freight forwarders, who then converted more road transports to combined transports.

On the occasion of our 30th anniversary, I'm particularly pleased that our little company has grown to become such a strong market leader. I congratulate the managers and employees who work at BTT today.

The company's first financial year was 1990, and in 1994, just four years later, DB acquired full ownership of BTT. What led up to this?

In addition to the DB subsidiary TFG Transfracht, there were four privately owned partners on board, each of which had different interests. Of course, we had anticipated that our partners would bring in transports and shift road transports to the rails. For various reasons, this was hardly ever the case, so Deutsche Bahn bought out the other partners' shares in BTT. We then had more leeway and were able to contract with high-performing small and medium-sized service providers and partners to provide pre-carriage and onward carriage services.

What good times do you remember at BTT?

Founding a company is always a difficult process, and a lot of blood, sweat and tears go into it. When you have the opportunity to help build a company, to be there as it continues to grow and especially if it expands to operate internationally, you come away with some good memories. I was with the company for almost 20 years. There were a lot of highlights over the years, including implementing major projects with special tank containers developed by BTT and organising inter-plant transports between different locations.

It's always in teams that we find success. I have fond memories of the many excellent, engaged employees who contributed to BTT's success.