CHEMICAL LOGISTICS Promoting greater intermodal transport while ensuring the highest levels of safety are key concerns for the European Chemical Industry Council and it is working with other groups, including EPCA, to achieve those goals
In 2011 the European Commission published a white paper entitled Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area – Towards a competitive and resource efficient transport system. Among other things, the white paper states that by 2030, 30 per cent of road freight over 300 km should shift to other modes, such as rail or waterborne transport, and more than 50 per cent by 2050. "In general we support an increased use of intermodal transport," says Cefic's director of transport and logistics Jos Verlinden, citing among other reasons "more and more road congestion".
However, the question remains as to whether such goals are practicable. After all, Verlinden explains, the chemical industry "already has quite a high share of intermodal transport", with close to 20 per cent of all shipments consigned via this method. Consequently, whether these targets are achievable depends on exactly what the Commission envisages. If it means another 30 per cent then, he says, this "will be very difficult". If, however, it means 30 per cent of what the chemical industry is already doing "then it might be more realistic". Even then, though, it would not be easy "because you need the infrastructure and the systems to be able to do it and these are not in place at this moment".
In response to the Commission's targets, Cefic created a special issue team tasked inter alia with preparing a report on the current state of the European intermodal transport network. To achieve this, the team embarked on an extensive survey of 13 major chemical companies and 15 logistics service providers (LSPs) to identify the main transport corridors and volumes, bottlenecks and barriers to further intermodal adoption.
With the final draft of the report expected before the end of the year, the survey has shown that, while the chemical industry has intermodal traffic all over Europe, at present the main flows are between the Benelux countries, Germany and northern Italy. Moreover, the survey identified a further 1.4m tonnes of traffic (representing an increase of 17 per cent) that could in theory be switched to intermodal transport providing the right conditions are met. Arguably, the biggest barrier to further intermodal adoption, the survey found, was that at present the costs involved are simply not competitive when compared to road transport. Furthermore, while there is a strong north-south axis, there are still many missing intermodal connections, especially in eastern Europe, France and Spain, where, for example, the use of different sized rail car axles prevent the fluid movement of goods entering the Iberian peninsula from the rest of the continent.
Intermodal connections were also identified by respondents as suffering from insufficient rail frequency and capacity, leading to longer transport times in comparison to sending chemicals by road transport. 'Last mile solutions' were also deemed insufficient or missing, meaning that while a shipment may arrive at a terminal on time it then encounters delays in actually arriving at the relatively nearby end destination. On top of all this, many intermodal terminals themselves seem ill equipped to handle current levels of chemical traffic let alone an increase of 30 per cent.
Thus, the survey found, greater intermodal transport, at least as far as the chemical industry is concerned, will not be possible without significant input, investment and commitment from all stakeholders involved. At the regulatory level, for example, there needs to be greater international technical, legal and organisational harmonisation. Railway companies, infrastructure managers and terminal operators, meanwhile, will need to develop a more holistic and international view of the intermodal market, with a more transparent and comparable set of services to ensure acceptable levels of reliability and more competitive prices.
Likewise, intermodal operators and LSPs will also need to optimise the transparency of their services in addition to increasing collaboration to enable new intermodal connections. At the same time, chemical companies will also need to take a more active role in evaluating the most efficient mode of transport for each corridor while better defining their expectations and objectives to LSPs. Their willingness to increase the share of intermodal transport, the survey found, could also be demonstrated by actively supporting the development of intermodal alternatives.
Regardless of the mode of transport employed, one issue that remains a key concern of Cefic is safety. One way in which it pursues greater safety is through its Safety and Quality Assessment Systems (SQAS) initiative that enables chemical companies to readily evaluate and appraise the safety, security, quality and environmental performance of LSPs via assessments conducted by a pan-European network of independent third-party assessors using a standard questionnaire. While SQAS initially focused on road transport, it has now grown in scope to cover the entire land-logistics chain, including intermodal operators and terminals, rail carriers, rail tank car maintenance workshops, packaged goods warehouses and chemical distributors.
What's more, describing SQAS as "a success story", Verlinden reports that the system's geographical adoption is continuing to spread thus increasingly reflecting the ever more internationalised nature of European chemical manufacturers. "Every year we see increasing numbers of assessment in countries like Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic and also in Turkey and even further east," he says. Indeed, the system is now being used in China and the Gulf Petrochemicals and Chemicals Association (GPCA) also recently voted to adopt its own assessment scheme based on the SQAS model for the Middle East. That said, Verlinden believes the use of the reports could still be higher and as such Cefic remains committed to promoting its adoption by encouraging chemical companies to make "more active use of the reports on the database".
"I see SQAS as our central assessment tool for improving the safety of our increasingly long and more complex supply chains," says Frank Andreesen, Bayer's head of EMEA logistics and chairman of Cefic's Strategy Implementation Group (SIG) Logistics. "It's about understanding the quality of your supplier base, in particular the safety aspect, because safety is critical, it's our licence to operate."
As a further means of enhancing safety, Cefic, in conjunction with the European Chemical Transport Association (ECTA) and the European Association of Chemical Distributors (Fecc), recently developed and published a new guideline on working at heights, something that Verlinden sees as "an important cause of accidents in chemical logistics". Furthermore, he reports, Cefic is also in the process of updating its behaviour-based safety (BBS) guidelines for truck drivers and for loading/unloading activities. "We are making good progress with the revision of theses BBS guidelines and I expect they will be issued by the end of this year/the beginning of next year," he says.
Additionally, Cefic has also now finalised new guidance on conducting safety risk assessment for chemical transport operations, with an official launch slated for the start of October. "What we want to do is give generic guidance to chemical and transport companies on how to develop a risk assessment because we see that not every company has such a system in place," Verlinden says, noting that "there is increasing pressure" from policy makers for industry to introduce such measures.
Employing a matrix methodology used by insurance companies, the guidelines, Andreesen states, enable chemical companies to become fully aware of the specific risk profiles associated with each of their transport and logistics activities, "mapping their various operations as to the likelihood of an incident happening and to the severity of the impact" should an incident occur. Furthermore, the guidelines employ "a common template" that allows industry to readily "profile and share particular lessons learnt from transport incidents" via a database accessed through the SQAS platform.
"Any SQAS user can go in and search the database," Andreesen explains, revealing that users can then not only select incidents by type but also see analyses of how and why such incidents happened. "They can then benchmark this and they can cross-check and see what were the contributing factors to a particular incident," Andreesen continues, stressing that that all information contained within the database is kept strictly anonymous and neutral. "The database lives from the input of the users and all members of Cefic and the SQAS are encouraged to share the lessons they've learned from particular incidents [and in so doing] speed up the learning curve of us all collectively and make us safer".
While Cefic is clearly dedicated to ensuring the highest levels of safety, there have nonetheless been a number of recent incidents involving rail transport. Consequently, Verlinden reports, Cefic will increasingly focus on ways of assessing and mitigating risk in this area. "It's mainly in the hands of other players, like the infrastructure managers or the rail operators," he says, "but we want to look at how we can improve risk management in rail transport in general. We still need to develop that further in detail but it's certainly a priority."
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