Duisburg Inland Terminal

DP World VP of inland and logistics for Europe Rob Harrison is urging shippers to buy into “synchromodality” to combat North Europe’s systemic barge congestion.

Mr Harrison,  previously head of the terminal operator’s Belgium business, acknowledged that two-to-three-day waits had been normal along the inland waterways servicing Antwerp and Rotterdam.

He told The Loadstar: “What we’re trying to offer to combat this is synchromodality, where we don’t focus on the means but the objective – getting goods to the customer.

“To achieve this, we are expanding our barge and rail services, which provides us the flexibility to reassign shipments between modes – if we spot a delay on rail services, we can send via barge, and vice versa.”

Inland consultant SeasC4U’s Gunther Ginckels says synchromodality is “essential” to address the congestion that frequently means seven-day waits.

“What is needed is all stakeholders sharing vital information with each other, so goods can move faster, more efficiently and in synchromodality, which, in essence, sees the terminal operators acting as the spider in the web,” Mr Ginckels told The Loadstar.

That means, based on information provided by stakeholders, that they offer a synchronised transportation product that takes the box from a seagoing vessel to its final destination.

“They determine the transport mode, which can be a combination of road, rail and/or inland shipping, and the time goods are expected at destination. It is a complete reimagining of the system,” said Mr Ginckels.

Meanwhile, Mr Harrison agreed synchromodality was not unique to DP World, and said for it to work, operators had to be “agnostic” over the terminal used.

He said DP World would be continuing efforts, seen over the past two to three years, that have meant the Dubai-based terminal operator increased its presence in the intermodal space to 12 locations across Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

DP World operates four barges, but Mr Harrison pointed out that these are smaller, niche vessels, more suitable for the Upper Rhine where they are able to fit through the locks.

“We also charter vessels and have good standing relationships with barge owners; and we run at quite high utilisation rates of 75-80%, which is above our peer groups who appear to be around 60%,” added Mr Harrison.

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