Full steam ahead

A strategy to develop wharfs on the Neckar river in Plochingen

The inland waterways are the only transport network in Germany with significant spare capacity. Compared to the rail and road network, there is plenty of potential to take more traffic. Yet government forecasts indicate that the transport output of waterborne traffic (in 1000s of km) will “only” rise by 26 percent between 2004 and 2025, while rail output will rise by 65 percent and road haulage output will rise by 84 percent. Fundamental changes in freight traffic and logistics have affected waterborne traffic and riverside dockland areas, mainly as a result of the different nature of freight: Companies are increasingly shifting production from mass goods to value-added products and splitting the location of their value chain activities. To adapt to these changes, Neckarhafen Plochingen GmbH, which runs the docks on the Neckar river in Plochingen, asked the Sinsheim-based Steinbeis Innovation Center for Logistics and Sustainability to draft a long-term dockland development strategy.

The starting point for the project was a study looking at the principles of inland waterway traffic and dockland concepts. The study, which had been carried out as part of an update to the Baden-Württemberg general transport plan, estimated that the wharf in Plochingen on the Neckar river had the highest growth potential of all inland dockland areas in Baden-Württemberg. The dock’s managers, a company called Neckarhafen Plochingen, needed a long-term dockland development strategy to put everything in place to cope with anticipated higher capacities and steel itself for processing future freight volumes.

The study was carried out in several stages, each of which builds on the others. First, the docks were analyzed in detail, complete with shipping users and existing superstructures. Starting out, the team looked at the current situation at the Plochingen wharf. As well as evaluating fundamentals such as general factors affecting the location and anticipated future trends, the experts also examined waterborne traffic that uses the docks. Then, the issues and challenges faced by companies using the docks were identified. These ranged from operational issues and general infrastructure problems (especially storage areas) to general transport links with the road, rail and waterway network.

The third priority was to work up specific recommended actions, in keeping with the long-term dockland development strategy. To be in a position to cope with freight volume increases of over 500 percent, it will be absolutely crucial not only to find more land, but also to make it available for use. One solution would be to convert a pool used as a safety dock inside the wharf. This would free up around 15,000 sq m of land for businesses and shipping companies to use. By narrowing the Neckar river, it would also be possible to free up space and add land next to the riverside mooring area. Although another area of land used by trains directly next to the dockland would not be available in the short term, in the long term it could be of interest for strategic reasons. If trains using the tracks no longer need this railroad infrastructure, it would free up yet more land and this could also be used to extend the docks.

One sign that docklands are flourishing is that new services start popping up. But to do this, companies need the right kind of land and transport connections to the road, rail and inland waterway network. In this respect, the wharf in Plochingen is actually already well connected. There are also plans in the pipeline to extend locks on the Neckar river. This move will be central in keeping the location attractive to dock users. Boats up to 135 meters in length will then be able to use the dock.

The dockland development strategy that Steinbeis Innovation Center for Logistics and Sustainability proposed for Plochingen has provided wharf managers with a basis for future decision-making and will help the company, Neckarhafen Plochingen, answer tomorrow’s challenges and position itself as an innovative service provider.

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