Altenwerder: Rail Terminal with Colourful Boxes

More than 160 kilometres of tracks connecting companies complement the port’s rail network.


In the first place, Hamburg is a port for containers. Nevertheless, huge factory railway stations such as those run by Hansaport, where goods trains are loaded with record amounts of ore or coal. Other facilities have fewer tracks, such as those for the car trains at O’Swaldkai, or small loading points with low traffic volumes. The oil industry, which is concentrated in the south of the port, transships its products on tank cars, primarily via the Hohe Schaar rail terminal.

The largest quantities of goods are brought onto the rail network in the west part of the port. Mostly colourful steel boxes can be found on the red-brown rail wagons between the Alte Süderelbe railway station and the port of Waltershof, where the HHLA and Eurogate container terminals handle their goods. The rail terminal at the HHLA Container Terminal Altenwerder holds the record with exactly 813,100 standard containers (2013), making CTA Europe's largest rail terminal.

Such quantities mean that every hour of operation and every square metre of space must be optimally used. Everything moves extremely quickly. Four semi-automated rail gantry cranes are responsible for smooth loading and unloading procedures at the nine, 700-metre-long tracks. They are occupied around the clock. The annual track capacity is divided into slots, for which rail operators must apply as early as the September of the previous year. One slot is between 4 and 4.5 hours long, during which time the entire rail handling process must be completed. 


Fitting More Boxes in a Limited Space

Given that almost all of these time windows are taken, the terminal team is always puzzling over how more tracks can be fitted into the limited space. An elaborated plan was made and the construction work was already started. The other option involves flexibility, speed and a very good, motivated staff. The CTA rail office is responsible for ensuring flexibility. In case of delays to inbound trains or during loading, they work together with the dispatchers of the affected trains to find an alternative solution. Fortunately, the pre-routing track at Altenwerder Ost was connected via two tracks to CTA last year, and the rail connection equipped with modern control and signalling technology. All that is required now is a call to the port railway control centre to open up a route between the rail terminal and the adjacent pre-routing track at short notice.


Tollerort Ideally Placed towards the East

In contrast to the overcrowded rail terminals on the western side of the port, Tollerort still has some space. “Our shipping company customers make less use of the railways for transport to the hinterland, which means that we do not always achieve the large quantities needed for block trains,” summarises Thomas Schwarz from HHLA Container Terminal Tollerort.

The facility in the north-east of the port is separated from the other three container terminals in the west by the Köhlbrand branch of the river Elbe. Given the close proximity of their location, it is also economical to transport individual groups of wagons. Quantity brings quantity, as the saying goes in the transport industry.

However, independent experts have awarded top marks to the railway infrastructure in the northern part of the port, and the port railway provides considerably more tracks here in the cheaper categories II and III. “This is why rail operators will not travel past Tollerort in the long term, as we are ideally placed for routes to the east,” emphasises Thomas Schwarz.