Erich Staake: Duisport – The world’s largest inland port and leading logistics hub in Central Europe

Germans are admired around the world for their organisational talent. Thus, it seems apparent that logistical abilities are near and dear to us. And how true that is, is documented by the world’s largest inland port in Duisburg, where ­workers still use the traditional miners’ greeting “Glück auf” (Good luck).

A railway connection of around 10,300 kilometres has linked together possibly the largest industrial city on earth with the largest economic area in Europe since 2011. A freight train with containers takes 16 days to com­­plete the journey. The transported goods primarily in­clude products from electronics suppliers as well as com­­puters manufactured by Hewlett-Packard and Acer. Ini­­tially, trains only ran once a week; today they ride the rails up to three times a week. The “Yuxinou” freight train trav­els between the cities of Chongqing in the People’s Re­­public of China (30 million inhabitants) and the world’s largest inland port, the Port of Duisburg. From there, 150 million people within a radius of 500 kilometres can be reached. China raves about the railway connection and al­­ready uses the flowery title “new Silk Road” to describe it.

Even we, as more subdued Central Europeans, cannot re­­sist being marvelled by the dimensions of this logistical attraction. What has been developed here in a cooperation between DB Schenker, Russian Railways, Chinese experts and the experts from the Duisburger Hafen AG, duisport, brings markets together and opens up new perspectives to companies at both ends of the route – an excellent example of concepts and strategies, which have provided Duisburg’s inland port with 15 years of increasing turnover and revenues. During this time, the port of Duis­­burg has developed into the leading logistics hub in Central Europe.

Currently, the almost 300 companies operating on the port premises, together with the port operator and the participating companies in the region, handle more than 120 million tonnes of goods with a value creation of three billion euros annually. 2013 saw an increase of 16 per cent as more than three million standard containers (TEUs) were handled. At the same time, employment, which in the Ruhr region is directly tied to activities in the harbour, has more than doubled in the last 15 years – from 20,000 to currently 40,000 employees.

We in Duisburg relied on trains at a very early stage. For example, a train travelling the distance between Chong­­qing and Duisburg is twice as fast as any form of sea transportation. And at the same time, freight is half as expensive as the faster transport by air. In total, more than 360 trains transporting freight between the Port of Duisburg and 80 locations in Germany and the world are making journeys every week. As a result, a significant ecological objective is accomplished because thousands of tonnes of freight must no longer be transported along clogged streets and motorways. Focusing on freight trains became the first pillar of our “trimodal” traffic con­­cept. The first-class port connection on the Rhine river, which serves as Europe’s largest waterway, and on the dense German and European canal network is the second pillar, completed by state-of-the-art warehouse, pack­ing and loading technology in the port. This is complement­ed by the excellent connection to the major European motorway net­­work. Thus, the equipped port of Duis­­burg is able to develop sophis­ticated concepts for supplying the major hinterlands in the heart of the European Union – this has proven to be an effective competitive advantage in the past years.

The responsible parties at the nearby Belgian and Dutch ports to the west as well as at the ports in Northern Ger­­ma­­ny use Europe’s largest inland port as a hub for goods with close customer proximity. Currently, for example, more than 70 million tonnes of goods are transported between Rotterdam and North Rhine-Westphalia every year, of which a major share is handled by the Port of Duisburg. The connection to Antwerp is also undergoing intense development. The Duis­burger Hafen AG holds a stake in the container terminal Antwerp Gateway and maintains a site for packaging logistics. Container trains travel between the two sites as frequently as ten times per week. Recently, both harbours agreed to further strengthen the Antwerp-Duisburg axis and develop it into one of the central logistics corridors in Europe. This calls for, among other things, establishing a new, rapid train connection between Duisburg and Antwerp. In addition, both partners are working on expanding the existing Vienna-Duisburg-Antwerp connection, in order to link Vienna, as the gateway to Eastern Euro­pean markets, to the Central European market to an even greater extent. In such a case, the port operator in Duisburg again plays the role of a consolidator and logis­tics distribution centre.

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An additional building block in the growth of Duisburg’s port is the explicit focus on providing services for our partners. This sector has become increasingly import­ant over the past 15 years. This initially involved real estate marketing in connection with convincing companies to settle here, particularly in the new “logport” prem­­ises just as the past settlement of companies on the premises of the Krupp foundry in Rheinhausen. More than 4,000 jobs have been created here, twice as many as the number of positions usually offered by a modern steel mill of a corresponding size. In the meantime, for­­merly vacant premises have been filled by “logport II” and “logport III”. We are now developing additional prem­ises outside the city limits together with the neighbouring communities – including “logport IV” in Kamp-Lintfort and “logport V” in Oberhausen – and we are supporting addi­tional logistics settlements, for example in Cas­trop-Rauxel.

The area of logistics services is added to the infrastruc­ture and suprastructure. Our subsidiary, duisport agency, is successfully developing tailored logistic hin­ter­land concepts for our customers’ transport chains as well as marketing and sales concepts. Duisport is also offering its expertise on an international scale, most recently in Brazil and the United Arab Emirates. There the duisport experts developed a hinterland concept for extending the port of Jebel Ali in Dubai, which is to become the logis­­tics hub for the entire region.

Because logistics and production are growing closer together in this globalised world, the spectrum of a mod­­ern port operator also includes its own packaging logis­­tics, which we have merged into our duisport packing logistics subsidiary. This company is currently working on numerous national and international logistics hubs such as in Antwerp, China or India. The company is among the market leaders in the area of industrial and export packaging for mechanical and plant engineering.

Therefore, one can say that Duisburg’s port has reinvented itself over the past years. Traditional goods such as coal, iron and steel lost market shares in goods handling, while the importance of chemical products, machines and industrial plants, food and products for the information technology sector increased. Leading logistics companies have established themselves here: world market leader Kühne + Nagel has its largest site in the world here, Japan’s NYK/Yusen Logistics is currently ex­­panding its strongest location in Europe. DHL, DB Schenker or CMA CGM also appreciate Duisburg’s port. And be­­cause industrial production and logistics services are in­­creasingly moving closer together, it is possible for compa­­nies located at the world’s largest inland port to offer its industrial customers order picking, packaging and distri­­bution of goods all over Europe much more frequently. Major brands such as Hewlett Packard, Johnson & John­­son, Danone Waters, Siemens or Mitsubishi take advan­­tage of these options.

Germany’s key sector also appreciates the quality provided by the Duisburg port. In 2013, Audi AG established its largest logistics centre in the world in Duisburg. Here, components for many different Audi models delivered by German suppliers are picked, packed and shipped. The components are intended for the production lines in international Audi plants in Asia and soon in Mexico. In April 2014 Volkswagen added a logistics centre for automotive com­­ponents, which are also to be shipped around the world from Duisburg. More than 700 employees will be working for the two auto brands here – another exam­ple for logistics as a job motor which has been established in and around the Port of Duisburg.

The author Erich Staake was born in Hildesheim in 1953. He is CEO of Duis­­burger Hafen AG (duisport). In addition, he is chairman of the board of man­age­­ment of serveral subsidiaries. The Diplom­kaufmann (MBA) worked as manager for Bertels­mann AG among others.