There is talk of bottlenecks everywhere, whether by road or rail. A new app from the DUSS is now intended to ensure more capacity in and at the CT terminals. And indeed, terminal operators, truckers and freight forwarders are benefiting in equal measure. The logistics chain is working. Unfortunately, also in the negative sense. Container ships have been delayed for months. That’s why the boxes are piling up in the seaports. Port hinterland traffic by rail is suffering as a result. The result: long waiting times for container truckers at hinterland terminals.
These delays are not a new phenomenon. Even before the Corona crisis and the Ukraine war, container truckers had to wait at combined transport (CT) terminals. The worsening disruptions in the maritime chains and the rail network have made the situation even worse. Michael Kleen is passionate about driving trucks. Almost every day, the managing director of MT-Transport GmbH in Neu-Ulm is at the terminal in Ulm. The company specializes in transporting maritime boxes. 70 trucks are part of the fleet. Yes, the waiting times at the terminals bother Kleen, however, “More annoying are the ‘futile’ trips to the terminal,” he says. That is, when the truckers drive to the terminal, but the containers are not there because the train is late. Or there is an acceptance stop at the terminal for export containers, but this information does not reach the truckers or reaches them too late. These journeys cost money, waste the valuable resource of driver time, strain the nerves of everyone involved, and cause disputes between the customer and the contractor over the assumption of costs. And at the terminal, these traffic jams make handling more difficult.
Something has to be done about this. This is what DUSS (Deutsche Umschlaggesellschaft Schiene Strafe) has seen. DUSS operates the CT terminals of Deutsche Bahn {DB) in Germany. We meet Andreas Schulz, CEO of DUSS, at the Ulm terminal. Also present: Giuseppa Santospagnolo, Head of South-Central Region at DUSS, Rene Schmohl, Terminal Manager in Ulm, Felix Paul Czerny and Markus Hartung, founders of the IT company Conroo, and Michael Kleen. Also contributing to the dicey situation at the terminals are the many containers that are not picked up immediately and that already clog up the DUSS facilities, which are already operating at 85 percent of capacity. In order to remain able to act, we have no choice but to repeatedly stop the delivery of containers that do not continue their journey on the day of delivery, but in two days or more,” says Santospagnolo, “but the container truckers are too often not informed of this. In addition, the terminals have no information about when which driver picks up or brings which container. “It’s like a black box,” Schulz explains, making it difficult to plan container storage within the terminal. “It was clear to us: we urgently need to improve the flow of information and thus make the processes smoother,’ says Schulz. He therefore set about digitizing the delivery and collection of containers by the container truckers, the part over which DUSS has the greatest influence. With Conroo, Schulz has not commissioned an established IT company, but a small start-up to digitalize the handling process. It was important to us that we digitize the processes as quickly as possible. A small start-up is faster and more flexible,” says Schulz, explaining the decision. Conroo is proceeding step by step. First, the company designed an app for truck drivers, who can use it to book a container at the terminal for pickup or delivery. In February 2021, Czerny and Hartung and their team started development. “Already in August, the first driver in Ulm booked with the app,* says Czerny. So drivers no longer have to report to the counter and present papers there. The app is now available at ten DUSS locations. Fifteen percent of truckers there already use it, says Czerny. However, certain applications such as hazardous goods or customs clearance are not yet possible, so the percentage is actually even higher.


The DUSS is trying to make the app attractive. “Since July, we’ve been paying two euros back for every digital booking,” Schulz says. A booking through the agency costs four to five euros. The operator receives this refund because the terminal operator has no customer relationship with the carrier. “Unlike in the seaport, we do not exert any coercion, but try to convince the users of the system,` says Schulz. But the system also includes slot booking with the familiar green, yellow and red traffic light system. A procedure that is viewed with skepticism by truckers in the seaports. Kleen is not a great friend of it either. Because: “We want to drive. A red light is always annoying,” he says. But he also shows understanding. And the traffic lights are still rarely red. We also have a two-hour slot,” says terminal manager Rene Schmohi. This slot is very wide, so that it is usually possible to handle the truckers in this slot. Kleen is a man of the first hour. “I’m almost always faster than the colleagues who do the handling over the counter,” says the entrepreneur. “And when I pick up containers, I just check in via the app.” He describes an example: He says he recently managed to move seven containers from the terminal to the neighboring empty container depot from 6:00 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. “Seven containers in 3.5 hours: That’s unbeatable and would not have been possible without the app.” Czerny also has good numbers to show: Last year, they recorded various data in Ulm in August, including the duration fior a clearance: instead of 45 minutes, which a driver needs on average due to the long queue at the counter, it was only a good zwdélf minutes when booking via app, and thus almost 33 minutes less. This means that the DUSS has less work to do at the counter and the trucking companies save time on the scarce resource of truck drivers. Despite the advantages, Kleen still sees room for improvement. I would like to know whether the container is ready for pickup,” he says. He puts the proportion of journeys where the truck driver leaves the terminal without having achieved anything at ten percent. This is because the operators are not always informed that trains are late. Especially now, when many trains are cancelled or delayed due to a lack of train paths or train drivers, we are particularly affected.” The same applies to the acceptance stop: this information is also not always updated.


And he expresses another wish: It should be possible to integrate the data from the app as well as the estimated arrival times of the trains into the transport management system (TMS) of the forwarders. This is part of Conroo’s next steps: the development of a Termina! management web app. We will create appropriate interfaces that will then enable the data to be transferred,” says Czerny. The web app and the interfaces should be available in the coming weeks. And what does the future hold for the KV terminal? The players agree: There will be a lot of changes. We are planning automated cranes like those in the seaports. The crane operator will then no longer sit on top of the crane, but in the control center and operate one or two cranes depending on the operating situation,’ says Santospangnolo. There should be a corresponding crane runway in Ulm as early as 2026. It would be strange if we still had a paper system at the receiving counter,” says Schulz. In other words, these counters will be a thing of the past. They will be replaced by video gates, corresponding access control systems (which already exist today, for example at the DUSS terminal in Munich) and corresponding booking systems. Hartung assumes that the systems that currently still exist or are being developed will then be interconnected and all players will know where a train, truck or ship with which units is currently located and arriving at the terminal.
Efficiency improvements urgently needed
This is pie in the sky. But the Conroo system has shown that it doesn’t always have to be a comprehensive solution. Simple means can be used to create urgently needed new capacity. In view of the worsening shortage of truck drivers and bottlenecks in the terminals in terms of parking and crane capacities, such solutions are indispensable.