From sea to train to table – a look at Norway’s rail freight industry

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Norway has an efficient rail freight system, but voices within the industry say that the modernisation of the Norwegian railway infrastructure is essential if it is to meet the demands of ever-increasing seafood exports.

It’s 9pm, and the sun has set over Norway’s capital, Oslo. While the city sleeps, Northern Europe’s fastest freight train is standing still at DB Schenker’s platform. The locomotive driver, a man in his forties, appears from amongst the train’s 50 wagons. He sticks his head out of the locomotive’s main door, looks around, then jumps down on to the platform.

Andreas Lindberg. PHOTO: Emili Knutson

Yearly the train transports 25,000 containers of  from the city off Narvik via Sweden to Oslo. The journey takes 26 hours in total, and during that time seven drivers will each drive a segment of that journey. Today engine driver Andreas Lindberg will take the 1,000-tonne heavy train to Kiil in Sweden. He remains calm even though he has a lot of responsibility on his shoulders.

“It is important to maintain punctuality of train timetables so that they synchronise with picking up and delivering goods, especially when we transport fish. Everything is however automatic, and I just control the speed and the brakes on the train, so I don’t have to think about it,” he says.

Lindberg tells Salmon Business it is a demanding route with many crossings where they often have to wait for oncoming trains. Scheduled trains have priority. Therefore, it is vital to be on time. The smallest of delays can have major consequences even if when driving at night. Passenger trains always have the right of way on the track.

PHOTO: Emili Knutson

Growing industry
DB Schenker is one of the world’s largest logistics companies and utilises a combination of vessels, semi-trailers and aircraft in the shipping of seafood depending on which market the fish is to be delivered. From northern Norway, the sea food travels by truck to Narvik and Kiruna where it is loaded on to trains. On arrival in Oslo, the fish are sorted for distribution by truck to Europe and for flights from Gardermoen to the Far East and the United States.

Since 2011, the company has transported significant volumes of farmed salmon from northern Norway. There are seasonal variations though, and during the high season, up to 800 tonnes of seafood is transported daily from Narvik to Oslo in the 600-meter long freight trains.

“In 2011, we embarked on an adventure that was beyond the imagination of most people. Schenker introduced its own solution for seafood freight from northern Norway to Oslo and further abroad. This resulted in the customers receiving a more stable logistics solution,” said Einar Spurkeland, Head of Marketing and Communications at DB Schenker.

According to Spurkeland, it is crucial for Norwegian exports to modernise its infrastructure. In his opinion, an efficient transport service is essential to be able to cope with the dynamic growth in seafood exports.

“The whole process of establishing a separate rail solution amounted to a huge development project that significantly increased the potential for Norwegian export industry. We created a rail solution that took goods freight to a whole new level,” he explained

Time for quality
The train is the fastest in the Nordic region with an average speed of 75km and a top speed of 130 kilometres per hour. Elisabeth Nordeng, head of the thermal division at Schenker, stressed that precision performance is essential and decisive in ensuring customers a top standard delivery for their goods.

Jon Austrheim og Elisabeth Nordeng. PHOTO: Emili Knutson

“It’s our responsibility to deliver the seafood to the market on time. We shall be in the agreed place at the right time, and thanks to the Schenker train, we now have a better offer to the market than we had before,” Nordeng said, adding that DB Schenker can now make the most of multiple delivery solutions, and has such massive capacity that they can cover the requirements of the majority of customers.

“The most important consideration for customers that own the fish or that later will sell it on, is precision of delivery and quality,” she said.

The new oil
Jon Austrheim, Head of multimodal solutions at DB Schenker, says the rail freight solution is good, but that there is always potential for improvement to better meet future needs.

“The seafood industry is growing and it could well become as important as oil. That’s why we as seafood transporters must offer such an excellent service on freight of fish that the industry will use us and send their goods by rail. We as a carrier serve the business community, which is our customer,” said Austrheim

According to Austrheim, logistics is a competitive driving force for business. Therefore, the company has set its sights on improving its freight transport segment throughout Europe so that they are instantly available whenever and wherever the European market needs them.

“We offer a good rail service, but it needs to be improved so that we can get the fish out to the market as quickly as possible. It is absolutely crucial for the Norwegian business community with regard to exports that the infrastructure is modernized. Without an efficient transport service, we would never have been able to export at the level and volume that we do now,” said Austrheim.

PHOTO: Emili Knutson

Austrheim believes Norway’s current rail infrastructure has several weaknesses and that it needs a major overhaul.

“The Swedish have come a lot further in rail systems in Europe. Norway is an important export country in Europe, so it is vital that more goods are transported by train.

He emphasized that an efficient transportation system will be something that Norway will live off in the future, adding that train solutions over long stretches are more cost-efficient and have far less environmental impact than delivery by truck.

“We can’t eat all the fish we catch here in Norway, so we have to sell it elsewhere, and that’s where we can make a difference. The goods always arrive at their destination, whether it is by truck or train, but prices and taxes, overheads etc. all rise markedly if transport is by truck,” Austrheim concluded.

Nighttime 9.28pm
Men in reflex vests moving in all directions on DB Schenker’s platform. One man is manoeuvring a fork truck to secure the train’s loaded semi-trailers and containers. Another is directing incoming trucks to their parking positions. A third is doing a safety check of the train, and a fourth worker is making sure that the freight’s stated transport temperatures are correct.

It’s now past 9.28pm, and in about 26 hours’ time the train will have arrived in Narvik, but not before it has made seven stops along the way.

PHOTO: Emili Knutson

This story was first time published at www.ilaks.no 30 September 2016