The Port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands is regarded the No. 1 logistics hub in Europe. Further, in 2017-18, the World Economic Forum ranked the port No. 1 for best port infrastructure worldwide. Singapore ranked second, Hong Kong third and the UAE fourth.
Some 170 million consumers within the European Union can be reached within one day from Rotterdam.
These factors are critical given that many products manufactured in China are transported to Rotterdam via Shanghai. But with China’s investment in the New Silk Road, critics claim that many products will shift to rail, thereby bypassing sea transport and the Port of Rotterdam.
Cuno Vat, CEO of Neele-Vat, one of the larger 3PLs in the Rotterdam region, claims that the New Silk Road initiative will be a plus for Rotterdam and the region.
“We just opened a new warehouse with a Turkish operator,” he said.
Neele-Vat’s Rotterdam-Albrandswaard office has certificates for the food, animal feed and pharmaceutical industries and temperature-controlled solutions. The company focuses on ocean, air, LCL and FCL freight and offers a rail option via China’s New Silk Road initiative, the result of an agreement by GVT Group of Logistics, the Port of Rotterdam and the Chengdu International Railway Port Investment Development Co to develop the Rotterdam-Tilburg-Chengdu Express.
“It will not be a game-changer,” Vat stated. “But it’s helpful to certain products as an alternative to air. Some 20 to 25 containers depart weekly.” Imports are largely consumer goods; exports contain wine and food as well as machinery from Germany.
Officials at the port are positioning the seaport for more efficient business and planning for further expansion. Experts like Michiel Jak, general manager of SmartPort – a partnership between the Port of Rotterdam Authority, Deltalinqs, the Municipality of Rotterdam, Erasmus University Rotterdam and Delft University of Technology – state that Rotterdam is well-poised to handle the logistics of Chinese imports whether coming via sea or rail.
For starters, Rotterdam is the heartbeat of Dutch logistics. The port handles nearly 60% of Northern Europe’s container trade, a market that has grown to 4.4 million TEUs. Its biggest competitor is Antwerp followed by La Havre.
Encompassing 31,000 acres and five terminals, the port’s crowning glory is its Maasvlake 2. Built on reclaimed land between 2008-13, Maasvlake 2 enlarged the port by 20%.
Maasvlake 2’s APMT-MV2 and Rotterdam World Gateway (RWG) – two of the world’s most up-to-date, automatic container terminals capable of handling the largest sea-going vessels – are responsible for much of the port’s growth.
“APMT-MV2 and RWG are fully electrified and ready for future growth,” said Steven Jan van Hengel, the port’s senior business manager for shippers and forwarders. “There’s enough room for Phases 2 and 3.”
Containers currently account for 32% of Rotterdam’s business and liquid bulk for 45%.
During the first six months of 2019, the port achieved a throughput of 240.7 million tonnes – 3.4% more than the same period 2018. Meanwhile, elsewhere in Europe, other ports are experiencing declining volumes due to terminal inefficiencies.
For that reason, the Port of Rotterdam is investing heavily in the Rhine River Corridor. “We have been investing over the last several years in data exchange and digitalization to improve operations in Rotterdam and the supply chain,” said van Hengel.
Investment also includes the freight corridor from Rotterdam to Genoa, Italy, one that is regarded as one of the most crucial European logistics axes. Not only do logistics services need to be developed, but the railway infrastructure along the corridor also needs to be modernized.
This includes the construction of an alternative route to the Middle Rhine Valley and an extension of the Betuwe line between Oberhausen and Emmerich in North Rhine-Westphalia.
In 2022, a third track between Zevenaar and Oberhausen is expected to be completed. That project includes noise barriers, upgrading 11 stations, modifying 47 overpasses and bridges and replacing 55 level crossings with 38 flyover crossings.
The Betuwe Line is critical as it strengthens Rotterdam’s connection with Europe’s hinterland and will help reduce road traffic, particularly given Rotterdam’s increase in container throughput and expansion plans, in addition to addressing New Silk Road needs.
Contributing to increased container traffic at the Port of Rotterdam is the 23,756 TEU MSC Gülsün that arrived at Rotterdam in September, followed by its equally large sister vessel. Rotterdam can handle these huge ships. But the port experiences truck and feeder congestion since 34% of movements are done by truck, 30% by feeder vessels, 28% by barge and just 8% by rail.
“Such large vessels require 8,000-10,000 moves in a 24-36-hour period,” van Hengel noted. “Generally, 800 TEUs equals 10 trains; 2,800 TEUs, 28 barge calls; 34,000 TEUs, 2,000 trucks; and 3,000 TEUs, five feeder calls.”
Consequently, an initiative is helping limit barge calls to port terminals. Late last year Barge Terminal Tilburg, Combined Cargo Terminals, Moerdijk Container Terminals and Danser Group signed on to combine cargo between Tilburg, Moerdijk and Rotterdam.
The initiative also is being expanded into Germany.
Intermodal is also a focus at the port. The challenge is to get ample cargo together for one single destination. “We have 22 freight trains a week, or four or five a day going to Venlo,” van Hengel said. “We also have dedicated rail lines into Germany.”
Truck congestion is being addressed by the construction of a dedicated road between the port’s five terminals. Plus, work is underway to organize steamship line calls by optimizing cargo flows and increasing visibility through digitalization platforms. The port has already earned the reputation as the most digitized seaport in the world.
Three years ago, Rotterdam introduced its Navigate system, a door-to-door route planner. A year later it launched the system for rail, barge, shortsea, deep-sea schedules. The system is so successful that the port is selling its solution to ports worldwide.
Rotterdam’s platform Pronto is also decreasing vessel time in the port. “While bunkering was once an issue, we have now seen this go to zero,” van Hengel said.
Further, in October, the port launched its Boxinsider, which helps shippers and forwarders schedule, monitor, and manage container logistics more effectively by indicating data point moves.
“Officials know exactly where each and every container is,” he said. “We gather different data stamps on a container and know its estimated time of arrival and the estimated time of departure. We do the same with inland moves.”
By Karen E. Thuermer
Correspondent | Rotterdam