Thomas Löffler: Tri-Modal goods handling – Excellent networking is the basis for success

Contargo operates one of Europe’s leading container inland logistics networks. Its networking concept is based on three components: its own terminals as transport nodes, its own transport routes via inland waterway and rail as links and competent centralised and de-centralised customer service organisations for handling orders. These services are used by shipping companies, freight forwarding companies and many other players along the intermodal logistics chain through the whole of Europe.

The containers are stacked up to five stories high at Contargo’s terminal in Wörth. A reach stacker picks up the topmost container from one of the colourful stacks, which is as high as a three-storey apartment building, and puts in onto the back of a truck. The empty container is taken to a customer, loaded and then brought back to Wörth, where it is then put onto a goods train for onward transport to Bremerhaven. Fifty metres further on, the crane trolley of the container gantry crane between the Rhine and the interim storage facility purrs back and forth: it is unloading 220 containers from a barge, arriving in Rotterdam just a few days earlier on an ocean-going freighter. The containers will be transhipped as quickly as possible onto trucks or goods trains for transport on to places such as Graben-Neudorf, Karlsruhe or Stuttgart. “The most important thing is to store the containers so that each one is freely accessible when it is to be removed and no other containers have to be shifted or displaced,” explains Wolfgang Schlegel, managing director of Contargo Wörth-Karlsruhe GmbH. In order for this to succeed, a terminal management system is used and a dispatcher monitors the optimised stacking. The comprehensive network of IT systems ensures that the containers can be handled rapidly and trouble-free. This is because, today, the transmission of information is an integral part of logistics.

Connections by inland waterway, rail and road. The objective is always rapid container handling. Regardless of whether containers contain automotive parts or tropical fruit, the goods must always arrive at the customer’s premises on time. For this reason, work goes on up to six days a week in Wörth. Almost half the containers destined for just-in-time delivery at a seaport are transferred to another mode of transport the same day.

What sounds like a lot of work is referred to by people in the industry as multi-mode transport. This combination of rail, barge and road transport is Contargo’s core business. In this way, the container specialist can make optimal use of the systems-based advantages of each transport mode. Barges are reliable, low-cost and environmentally friendly. Rail is another environmentally friendly transport mode which requires little space but is quicker. Road transport provides the immediate region with around-town and direct service flexibly and quickly. Contargo uses trucks mostly for pre- and onward carriage together with a mass transport mode such as rail or barge for its longer main-line runs. In this way, freight can be delivered quickly and as required without having to forego the cost advantages of a mass transport mode. This is the concept according to which Contargo – which was formed ten years ago – organises container traffic between the western port, the sea ports in Northern Germany and the European hinterland. This success can be seen in the figures: with an annual traffic volume of 1.8 million TEU, Contargo is one of the largest container logistics networks in Europe. In 2013, its 800 employees earned an annual turnover of 356 million euros.


One of the main ingredients of Contargo’s recipe for success is its extensive range of locations. Over the last three years, three well-known logistics services providers joined forces under the Contargo brand name – Contargo merged the terminals and offices at the former Wincanton and Pöhland company locations, thereby almost doubling turnover and the number of employees over the last two years. This growth enables Contargo to continue to expand its range of products and push ahead with the planned southern and eastern expansion of its network. Contargo’s aim is to use the resulting synergy effects to con­tinue to grow, which will enable it to combine its strengths in the interests of its customers and to further expand its combined network. Contargo currently has over 25 container terminals in Germany, France, Switzerland and the Czech Republic and it is represented with offices at other locations in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Japan, which enables it to service all major European business locations. Its presence in many different countries guarantees customers local-based contacts who not only speak their languages but also have specific local market knowledge. The dense network of locations on the Rhine in particular enables it to combine transport modes and thereby offer tightly-knit timetables and avoid empty trips to a large extent.

High terminal density allows synergies. However, the high density of Contargo’s terminals also enables close cooperation. For example, Contargo Wörth-Karlsruhe GmbH is made up of its terminal in Wörth and its premises in Karlsruhe only 15 kilometres away. The company has a total of five berths for barges, six railway lines, four container gantry cranes and six reach stackers. Up to 9,000 TEU (twenty-foot equivalent units, standard container size) can be stored at the same time. Both terminals connect the Southern Palatinate, Baden and Alsace (Pamina) economic region with the sea ports of Antwerp, Rotterdam, Hamburg and Bremerhaven. “Together, we offer seamless container service,” says Wolfgang Schlegel of Contargo. “As well as goods handling and road, barge and rail transport, we also organise repair and maintenance of the containers.” Containers are loaded and unloaded and full and empty containers can be stored at Contargo’s terminals. In addition, both terminals have RoRo loading ramps so that rolling or unstable freight can be loaded into ships’ holds. At the moment, a container with paints and dyes destined for South America is being parked in a special area for the transport-related storage of hazardous goods. No problem for Contargo – the company not only handles refrigerated containers but also containers of various categories of hazardous goods. The company employs qualified personnel who regularly take part in basic and advanced training courses. All transport modes used by Contargo and almost all its terminals have the necessary permits and equipment for transporting hazardous goods in containers. Thanks to its Europe-wide network, Contargo can deliver freight of all types safely and on time.

The author was born in 1959 and studied business administration in Frankfurt. After a management position in a private railway company, Thomas Löffler was appointed to the management of Combined Container Service (CCS) in 2002. He joined the management of Contargo in 2004 and he has been spokesman of the management since 2005.