The Swiss combined transport operator Hupac achieved a positive annual result in 2009 despite a slump in traffic and turnover
Traffic development: slight recovery
In the crisis year 2009, the volumes in Hupac’s pan-European transport network fell by 13.5% to 607,284 road consignments. This represented a reduction of just under 100,000 consignments compared to the previous year, mostly due to economic factors as a result of declining market demand. A huge shift back onto the roads was prevented by various measures to promote sales, including the Federal Office of Transport’s economic stimulus plan in the Alpine transit segment through Switzerland. A slight recovery in the transport market could be seen across Europe, said Hans-Jörg Bertschi, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Hupac Ltd, at the media conference on financial results in Zurich. However, the market was still characterised by great instability and continued to pose great challenges to Hupac’s growth strategy. Meanwhile, Hupac recorded an increase in traffic of around 18% in the first four months of 2010. The volumes of 2008 were achieved again for the first time in March 2010.
Positive annual result, high investment
Thanks to a powerful restructuring programme, Hupac is able to report a balanced financial result for 2009. Group turnover fell by 18.2%, while the cost of services was disproportionately reduced, leading to an increase of 8.8% in gross profit. By the end of the year, Hupac achieved a profit of CHF 2.8 million, roughly equivalent to the previous year’s result. The restructuring measures included the systematic increase in train capacity utilisation, the return of leased wagons, reduced working hours and a cutback on temporary work at the terminals as well as the postponement of investment in new rolling stock. There was also a pleasing development in the Group’s cash flow, which amounted to CHF 46.7 million (+ 37.8%) at the end of the year. Investments in tangible fixed assets once again reached a high volume at CHF 55.7 million. These were primarily related to the construction of the HTA Hupac Terminal Antwerp, which was put into operation at the beginning of 2010, the further expansion of the Busto Arsizio-Gallarate terminal and the purchase of rail wagons.
Infrastructures for further modal shift
The economy and transport are likely to return to their former levels of growth in the foreseeable future, so infrastructure planning must be adapted now. “The trend towards Green logistics is a real chance for combined transport,” says Hans-Jörg Bertschi. In his view, the positive emissions and energy balance of rail is becoming an increasingly important argument for shippers and hauliers, so it is crucial to provide infrastructure and capacity for market-driven services in rail freight transport. This includes transhipment terminals in various European economic centres and specific measures to increase productivity, such as the expansion of the North-South corridor through Switzerland for train lengths up to 750 metres instead of the current 575 metres. “If we are serious about the shift in transalpine traffic, the 4-metre profile adjustment of the Gotthard corridor must be put right at the top of the list of priorities,” demanded Bertschi, because by far the greatest potential for modal shift lay in the 4-metre semi-trailer segment. To allow this traffic to be shifted onto the railways when the Gotthard base tunnel opens, it would be essential to expand the Gotthard corridor immediately. “Without a 4-metre corridor there will be no shift of 4-metre trailers,” said Bertschi. “If the 4-metre profile adjustment is only achieved with the Bahn 2030 project or even later, this will delay by decades our ability to exploit the modal shift effect of the NEAT tunnel.”
Together for the future of SBB Cargo
Another cornerstone for modal shift is the opening of the railway markets. Whilst the liberalisation process is still in the initial stages in many places, on the North-South axis through Switzerland there are five freight railways in competition, with none in a position to dominate the market. “These positive general conditions have made a crucial contribution to modal shift and they must be maintained at all costs,” emphasises Bertschi. In contrast, there was a risk in monopoly markets that inefficiencies would be offset by rate increases, causing the railways to lose market shares to the roads. Hupac therefore welcomes the decision by SBB to establish an independent SBB Cargo subsidiary specialising in international freight transport and thus support the opening of the market. “SBB Cargo International is the chance for Swiss cargo trains and locomotive drivers to continue to operate in international transport after the opening of the Gotthard base tunnel,” says Bertschi. In his view, the new flat rail route will vastly improve the competitive position of foreign railways and newcomers, while the competitive advantage of SBB with its specialisation in mountain traction would be lost. “We are campaigning to ensure that the planned new company can be successfully positioned in the market as a flexible and competitive railway company.”
The way out of the crisis also includes expansion of the network, explained Hupac’s Managing Director, Bernhard Kunz. Many new products were introduced in 2009, including a connection between Taulov and Verona, various new connections between Antwerp and Spain/Portugal, between Schwarzheide and Wroclaw in Poland and also between Budapest and Curtici in Romania. The introduction of new products will be further intensified in the current year. The focus is on the 4-metre segment with connections between Cologne and Novara, Rotterdam and Verona as well as Antwerp and Verona. The new traffic from Busto Arsizio includes the connection to Barcelona started in April and the shuttle running to Singen from May onwards as a replacement for the route from Brescia. In Romania, there will be an extension of the connection from Budapest into the Bucharest area, whilst new connections are planned between Barcelona and Madrid, Duisburg and Taulov as well as Antwerp and Ludwigshafen.
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