Reporting 2021

On the right track

When a new car leaves the manufacturing plant, it is just the start of its long journey to the final customer. In the age of climate change, limiting our carbon footprint is also important during the transportation process. As the route taken by a ŠKODA ENYAQ from the factory in Mladá Boleslav, Czech Republic, via BLG RailTec’s marshalling yard in Falkenberg to BLG AutoTerminal Bremerhaven demonstrates: The future of sustainable automotive logistics belongs to rail transport.

One final check before issuing the all clear: The brand-new ŠKODA ENYAQ in moon white is ready to set off on its journey from the plant in Mladá Boleslav, Czech Republic, to the final customer. But how do the cars actually find their way to their future owners?

Quality assurance on ŠKODA ENYAQ at the site in Mladá Boleslav

The final quality check takes place at the ŠKODA plant in Mladá Boleslav before the ENYAQ starts its rail journey to Bremerhaven.

This time, the final destination is overseas so first the vehicle has to be transported to the BLG Group’s car terminal in Bremerhaven, a distance of 620 kilometers from the ŠKODA plant. Bremerhaven handles some 1.7 million vehicles annually, making the seaport terminal one of the world’s largest automotive hubs. As an all-electric vehicle, the ŠKODA ENYAQ stands for climate-friendly mobility. So, for the automobile manufacturer, a member of the Volkswagen Group, it stands to reason that reducing CO2 emissions in logistics also has high priority.

David Strnad, Head of Brand Logistics at ŠKODA AUTO, says: “As part of its sustainability and Green Future strategy, ŠKODA AUTO has set itself ambitious targets, which it is striving to meet by gradually increasing the share of rail transport powered by green energy, both in the INBOUND and OUTBOUND areas. The OUTBOUND area, which is responsible for transporting ENYAQs, now uses rail in 58 percent of all cases. However, this percentage is not the endpoint for ŠKODA AUTO; the strategic goal is to increase it.”

Start: 0 km

Mladá Boleslav

Logistics means enjoying the challenge

Transporting a sustainable car piggy-back on a diesel transporter for hundreds of kilometers by road? “We can do better than that,” says Thomas Bamberg. “Namely, emission-free by rail.” BLG AutoRail can transport in excess of 200 cars on every train. And it does this in the German and Austrian rail network using green electricity every kilometer of the way.

Thomas Bamberg is Manager of the associated company BLG AutoRail GmbH. He is a railroad man through and through: At Deutsche Bahn, he was responsible as works manager for the maintenance of locomotives and freight cars, before later moving into rail logistics. Since 2013, he has been sharing his expertise with BLG AutoRail. His aspiration is to guarantee automotive logistics that reconciles efficiency and sustainability. “A tricky task, but doable,” Thomas Bamberg says. And it’s precisely the tricky part that the logistics expert enjoys. “In this job, it helps enormously if you’re up for a challenge.”

“Modern, lean and reliable processes are the strategic direction for the use of rail transport.”

David Strnad, Head of Brand Logistics at ŠKODA AUTO
David Strnad

Back in Mladá Boleslav, the ŠKODA ENYAQ in moon white is ready to be loaded onto a car train. Another hundred new cars are also ready to be transported, some to Bremerhaven, some to other destinations across Europe. For ŠKODA, the logistical question at this point is: How can the cars be sorted so that they reach their respective destinations without any detours? Designate a separate train for each location and wait until enough cars are transport-ready? That would be incredibly space-consuming, expensive and inefficient for the manufacturer. “This is where we come in,” says Thomas Bamberg. “Our proposition to partners like ŠKODA: All you need to do is sort the wagon loads by destination, and we’ll assemble them into trains.”

David Strnad, Head of Brand Logistics at ŠKODA AUTO, adds: “In the future, ŠKODA AUTO is also planning to increase the loading capacity of its production vehicles onto trains, both at the production plant in Mladá Boleslav and at the Kvasiny site. Modern, lean and reliable processes are the strategic direction for the use of rail transport.”

Multiple ŠKODA ENYAQ on a wagon

Reinvention of a railroad location

So the ŠKODA ENYAQ is loaded onto a rail car bound for Bremerhaven. This is then coupled to others that will later head for different destinations. This mixed block train then travels 200 kilometers northwest, to Falkenberg in Brandenburg. Railroad enthusiasts are familiar with this location that lies halfway between Leipzig and Cottbus. Falkenberg was already an important hub in the 19th century, and in the days of the GDR the marshalling yard was very important for freight transport. The railway museum at Falkenberg bears witness to these bygone times. When Deutsche Bahn decommissioned the site in 1994, it looked as if Falkenberg was destined to disappear from the railroad landscape. “But then we came along,” says Thomas Bamberg.

Car Icon

> 300,000

new cars pass through the Falkenberg marshalling yard per year

In 2011, BLG AutoRail established its BLG RailTec subsidiary. Its mission was to reawaken the facility from its long sleep and bring it back to life. Quite literally, because the old tracks were overgrown, the switch points were derelict and thorny brush was growing along the former line. But at least the rails were still there, and Falkenberg’s location in the heart of Europe was still ideal. So BLG RailTec invested in building up a logistics hub for freight transport. That was ten years ago. What started out as a project with just a handful of employees is now a marshalling yard that every year handles rail wagons carrying more than 300,000 new cars. “Over the past ten years, we have succeeded in breathing a whole new life into the forgotten railroad town of Falkenberg,” says Thomas Bamberg, who also manages the business of BLG RailTec. The fact that the logistics center is now one of the most popular employers in the region fills him with pride, he says: “This success not only has economic and sustainable dimensions, it also produces a social dividend.”

220 km


Sorting and coupling rail cars

When the car train from Mladá Boleslav reaches the Falkenberg logistics hub, the wagons are sorted so that at the end of the process each one is coupled with others bound for a single destination. This works because, in addition to the train from Mladá Boleslav, Falkenberg also handles trains coming from other plants. However, in logistics the clock is always ticking, so it’s important to keep standing times to a minimum. “But that doesn’t mean that planning and execution are always easy,” Thomas Bamberg adds. Like passenger transport, freight transport is also dependent on the quality of the rail network, and not only in Germany, but also on those sections of the route in the Czech Republic or Poland. Delayed trains are not only annoying, they also throw plans into disarray because sorting in Falkenberg gets held up. “You need to keep a cool head, especially when you have to resort to Plan B or even Plan C,” says Oliver Fabian, authorized representative and Sales Director at BLG AutoRail. In short, he advises automobile manufacturers on the company’s logistics solutions.

Multiple ŠKODA ENYAQ on a wagon in front of a train station

The future is digital, automated,
optimized for electric vehicles

For rail-bound auto transport, the company operates its own fleet of some 1,500 rail cars. Each one passes through the marshalling yard in Falkenberg multiple times per year. So it was an obvious step to utilize this time to undertake recurring maintenance and repair work on rail cars at the site. Since 2014 this has been done in a new freight car workshop; by now every other rail car that is serviced here comes from external customers. “In the space of a few years, the workshop has become an indispensable business unit,” says Manager Thomas Bamberg. Mobile repair teams are also on call to provide rail car maintenance services along the line.

The workshop is also the place where the company drives innovations. “These are necessary, because electromobility is placing new demands on logistics,” Thomas Bamberg explains. An all-electric SUV like the ŠKODA ENYAQ, for example, is significantly heavier than a car powered by a combustion engine, and the sensitive batteries also have to be adequately secured for transport, Bamberg points out. To cope with the growing variety of car sizes, the team uses wagons with flexible loading levels. For transporting large vehicles such as SUVs, a rail car was designed with two flexible loading decks, for which tunnels no longer pose an obstacle in Europe.

420 km

En route for Bremerhaven

BLG RailTec is at the forefront of another step toward the future of rail logistics and is cooperating with researchers from the Technical University of Berlin on the development of concepts for digital automated coupling (DAC). The innovative feature: the system automatically connects freight cars and transmits relevant data directly to the locomotive. This saves time and, together with new braking systems, enables much longer trains of more than 1,000 meters. “We are working on making rail-bound automobile logistics smarter, more efficient and, as a result, even greener,” Thomas Bamberg says. Freight trains are ready for the scrap heap? “Quite the contrary, the climate-friendly future belongs to them.”

“Our proposition to partners like ŠKODA: All you need to do is sort the wagon loads by destination, and we’ll assemble them into trains.”

Thomas Bamberg, Manager of BLG AutoRail GmbH
Thomas Bamberg

Once the shunting work is completed in Falkenberg, each block train is coupled to a locomotive – and the journey continues to a total of 13 different destinations. For the ŠKODA ENYAQ, the second stage of the journey begins.
After a few hours, the car transport train arrives at BLG AutoTerminal Bremerhaven, where the vehicle is prepared for the overseas leg of its journey. This logistical feat takes two to three days. A playfully easy undertaking? The very idea makes Oliver Fabian laugh. “If at the end of the day the customer has the impression that everything went smoothly, then we’ve done a good job,” says the sales director.

ŠKODA ENYAQ on a wagon in Bremerhaven

After 620 kilometers by train, the ŠKODA ENYAQ has arrived in Bremerhaven.

Destination: 620 km