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Full steam ahead

Full steam ahead

01/05/2009 | Channel: Freight, Rolling Stock

ERS Railways sees its dedication to the customer and sustainability as its key to future success and its way out of the economic downturn

Originally established as European Rail Shuttle BV in 1994 by founders Royal Nedlloyd, Sea-Land Service, P&O Containers and Maersk, ERS Railways is now a wholly owned subsidiary of A.P. Møller - Mærsk Group following a number of re-organisations and acquisitions of three of the four main shareholders over the years. During its 15-year history, the company has grown from transporting 22,000 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) to over 650,000, making it one of Europe’s biggest intermodal rail freight providers. Operating over 10,000 services a year, ERS Railways transports freight to terminals across Europe and is able to offer both scheduled and bespoke train services on a range of routes 24 hours a day, seven days a week. With daily departures and arrivals to and from various destinations in Germany, Italy, Poland, the Czech and Slovak Republics, Hungary, Slovenia, Belgium and Sweden, the company is able to exploit the best shuttle train network for containerised transport in Europe, operating from Europe’s biggest port, Rotterdam as well as a number of other European ports. ERS Railways’ unique combination of local management and outsourcing to achieve the optimum volume on each route corridor ensures that the journeys its locomotives make are worthwhile and economically efficient for staff, drivers RAILWAYand customers.

The company’s ever expanding network of capabilities offer the utmost in freight provision flexibility, making ERS Railways an obvious choice for some of the biggest logistics companies. With emphasis on close industry partnerships, ERS Railways’ biggest client is Maersk, its main shareholder, closely followed by shipping companies like P&O Ferrymasters and DFDS, as well as logistics companies like IGS Germany. Forging strong partnerships with forwarding and trucking companies is essential for the movement towards greener transport as it enables the transit of goods through a variety of transit modes, avoiding road congestion and restrictions.

Alan Gibson, managing director of the company outlines its key strengths: “Being part of the A.P. Møller - Mærsk Group has huge advantages for our operations as it is a very financially stable and dynamic organisation which has a knock-on effect on our capabilities – we have a strong support network behind us. As a specialist in shuttle freight all our services are direct, going from point A to point B and back again. We do not offer single wagonload services, which are by nature inefficient, requiring re-handling several times before reaching their final destination. This business model means that the wagon sets remain intact throughout the duration of the journey - we don’t stop and remove wagons at different points and therefore we remain time and cost efficient. However, this does rely on us having sufficient volume to fill the train in both directions to make it worthwhile, especially as we often depart several times a day between popular locations. We provide the utmost in cost efficiency and quick service.”

The past six months have proven to be highly challenging for rail and freight companies, with customers pulling back from contracts and their requirements for transportation changing in light of the economic crisis. ERS Railways is no exception, having experienced a notable downturn in the last few months. However the company is looking to future growth by remaining true to its mission statement of being a dynamic, value-orientated business with the customer at its heart, as Alan highlights: “We have five core values that we are forever aiming to uphold; remaining true to our good name, respect for all people, honesty and integrity, preservation of the environment and constant care, which are very much in line with the A.P. Møller - Mærsk Group’s values. It is important to be open and respectful to your customers - in the current environment everyone is suffering whether by a big or small amount and we make it our goal to sit down with our customers in trouble to work out a solution that is positive for both of us. We want to help our customers through the difficult period whether that means redesigning our network, changing our product offering or helping them out with their financial commitment to us - we are trying to build a relationship with our clients that is sustainable for the future.”

ERS Railways has also shown increasing dedication to the preservation of the environment through a number of key developments. The company’s fleet of conventional diesel motors is currently being exchanged for electric locomotives. Though more expensive, the new locomotives will help ERS Railways to reduce its carbon footprint, as well as being easier to maintain and improving its quality of service and reliability. The organisation has also downsized its headquarters in Rotterdam in order to reduce the office overhead costs and its own carbon contribution.

Alan outlines ERS Railways’ further areas of environmental focus: “We’ve been looking to our work processes to see where we can eliminate any form of duplication. For example, where there is manual work we’ve been investigating where we can improve the integrity of the data by DDI (device driver interface) or using a new operating system we’ve called eBIS, a more efficient business information system - making sure we get everything right the first time around. We are continuously trying to find new ways of offering sustainability and improving our environmental credentials to offer our clients improved data flow and integrity - it is never just one area of emphasis.”

Currently ERS Railways maintains operations in 12 countries and is looking to the East for further growth opportunities. Over the last few years the use of rail freight for transit between China and Europe has greatly increased and this is a key area for ERS Railways’ future, as Alan explains: “We have run seven pilot trains between China and Europe as we have seen a growing trend in the industry for transit between manufacturers in north western China where production costs are cheaper, to Eastern Europe which is often used as a staging post for launching products into Western Europe. Rail is becoming an increasingly popular choice as an alternative to the cheaper but slower use of shipping by vessel and the far more expensive but faster mode of air freight. The ability to transit products quickly but at a reasonable cost is especially important for electronic goods manufacturers, as they need to get products to market quickly before competitors at crucial times like Christmas, or in time for key product launches. Though developments have slowed in the current climate, we see a great deal of potential in this area, having carried out more pilots than any of our other competitors. We believe we have the expertise and the knowledge to come out of this economic downturn much stronger than before.”