A fully loaded container train coming from Hamburg rolls into the Metrans terminal located on the southern outskirts of Prague. In next to no time, the operator up in the cabin of one of the five, 26-metre-high and approximately 80-metre-wide rail gantry cranes begins to discharge the containers. Some of them are destined for the Czech capital, while others will continue their journey on connecting services to Pilsen or Salzburg, for example. That same day, the shuttle train from Hamburg will head back to the Elbe loaded with export goods. The high frequency of the shuttle trains that travel back and forth between the seaport and the hub terminal with the same wagon arrangement is one of the secrets of Metrans’ success.
This hub-and-shuttle principle saves money, energy and time spent shunting trains. As a result of the high traffic frequency, it also boosts reliability and flexibility, and therefore the appeal to customers. They are also helped by the fact that Metrans offers a full-service package: its core service is rail transport, and this is complemented by various services at the inland terminals, including customs clearance. Metrans also organises pre-carriage and on-carriage using heavy goods vehicles.
It all began at a terminal in Prague’s Uhříněves district: the facility went into operation in October 1991 and the first container train from Hamburg arrived in February 1992. Metrans had been founded in spring 1991 to link what was then Czechoslovakia to Hamburg’s seaports – until then, rail-based container transport had only been possible within the former Eastern bloc countries. The traffic between Prague and Hamburg developed so successfully that other connections were soon added.
“Metrans’ success is the result of a visionary idea, its implementation and its partnership with HHLA. Yet just as important for the success of our company are our loyal customers and our highly motivated employees,” said Jiri Samek, founder of Metrans a.s., who died in 2018.
Metrans has since become the market leader for seaport-hinterland container traffic with Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe. There are more than 500 rail connections a week within Metrans’ closely knit network which stretches from the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Italy to the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia and Slovakia. Overall, Metrans operates 16 terminals in the hinterland, of which five function as large hub terminals. Budapest is the fourth and newest hub in the Metrans network, after Prague, Česká Třebová and Dunajska Streda. Containers are transported from these hubs on the company’s own locomotives and wagons, as well as via seaport-hinterland traffic and, increasingly, continental traffic.
HHLA has invested heavily in its own facilities and rolling stock, particularly in recent years, and has significantly increased its vertical integration as a result. This investment has led the Intermodal segment’s share in the revenue of the HHLA Group to rise significantly and continuously.
The Port of Hamburg benefits from the strength of the HHLA rail subsidiary. The excellent, high-frequency and environmentally friendly rail connections with Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe attract cargo to Hamburg that may otherwise have been sent via a rival port. As such, the strong Metrans network contributes greatly to the further development of Europe’s largest rail port.