How waste is revolutionising the industry

11. 04. 2024

Waste transport has developed into an independent business unit at Rail Cargo Group (RCG). The Environmental Solutions team, which is responsible for this area, is looking for the best solutions to connect rail and road. In doing so, they are unconventional and overturn many a paradigm.

Christopher Prax-Huber is Segment Manager for Environmental Solutions and is also known in the industry as Mr MOBILER. Thomas Flatscher has been with the railway for 35 years and manages the largest Key Accounts in the sector. Christopher and Thomas are passionate about their field and see themselves as a living model for the future of railway logistics.

What does RCG do in the Environmental Solutions division?

Christopher: In Environmental Solutions, we focus on waste transport. Our USP (Unique Selling Proposition) is clearly the end-to-end processing and the end-to-end support provided by the respective Key Account Manager in conjunction with the Customer Success Manager. We don’t think from station to station, but live and breathe rail logistics, which also takes into account the pre- and onward carriage by lorry.

What significance does the Waste Management Act (AWG), which was passed in 2021, have for the industry?

Thomas: According to the AWG, waste over ten tonnes and a certain kilometre distance must be transported in an environmentally friendly way by rail or with alternative sustainable mobility options. In order to be able to assess the impact of the AWG, we at RCG first had to look at what actually falls under waste, what waste we already transport and where we already have expertise. It quickly became clear that we needed our own competence centre for waste transport! Although this already existed in another form, it was not independent.

Christopher: The industry is also used to lorries and has developed apart from rail infrastructure. So our logistics process also had to be adapted to lorries and therefore multimodal. The derivatives were then the MOBILER and the Roll-off Container (ACTS). We based our business case for Environmental Solutions on this and the AWG.

Christopher Prax-Huber, Segment Manager Environmental Solutions & Thomas Flatscher, Key Account Manager

What is special about the MOBILER?

Christopher: The MOBILER is actually a decentralised addition to our terminals and allows us to handle goods in “greenfield” regions, as our customers often have no rail connections. No additional equipment such as forklifts or cranes are required for transhipment, just the lorry driver, who can carry out the transhipment by remote control in seven minutes. But the real intelligence of the MOBILER is in the container, not the wagon, because it can be adapted to a wide variety of goods and waste types and therefore fulfils our requirements perfectly. We build our containers the way the customer needs them.

Thomas: Our aim is that, like the lorry, we don’t produce empty runs and find synergies. That’s not always easy in combination with waste. For example, we transport waste in one direction and building materials in the other.

What types of waste do you transport, and which industries do you deal with?

Christopher: We cover a broad spectrum and transport both unprocessed waste, for example bulky waste and salt slag, and processed waste, for example substitute fuels for the cement industry. There are different things to consider depending on the type of waste. Salt slag, for example, is a waste product from aluminium production. As salt and products containing salt are not particularly compatible with steel, we equip our containers with a special inner coating that originally comes from offshore plants, such as those found in the sea. This makes the containers more durable.

Our biggest Key Accounts are customers who are concerned with the thermal utilisation of waste. The waste is used to generate electricity, district heating and heating energy.

Thomas: Waste is a huge source of energy. The economy needs it. And the cement industry in particular needs it, because they need a lot of heat in their kilns. That’s why the cement industry is also a very big consumer of processed waste. The waste is shredded by sieving and sorting plants and parts are removed that can be utilised in other ways, for example in thermal plants. These are the two options: either the waste is utilised thermally, or it is processed or recycled.

Are there any main routes that are particularly important or that are emerging in the future?

Christopher: We don't have a classic route mentality, but certain routes result from the system. For example, waste is transported from Italy to Austria, Germany, and Sweden for thermal utilisation in Scandinavia. In Austria, the main route runs from west to east and south to north. For Linz AG, for example, we transport municipal waste from Tyrol to Upper Austria.

How do you intend to develop this newly created Environmental Solutions division over the next few years?

Thomas: We want to address new customers and implement customised rail logistics concepts for them – internationally. For example, in addition to plastic waste from households, there is also commercial plastic waste. There exist special processing plants for this. We are currently developing our own rail logistics concepts to transport commercial plastic, as these transports are traditionally carried out by lorry. Very light in one direction and in the other, for example white goods such as fridges etc. – the road is quite inventive here and we must be just as inventive. The challenge here is to find good combinations so that we can offer at competitive prices, because the volumes are huge, and the price is very competitive. Sewage sludge will also become increasingly relevant in the future. We are currently building our own plants and need our own equipment here too. We are at the forefront of this and are developing our own solutions.

Christopher: Currently we are also piloting a project to transport non-ferrous metals such as copper scrap and aluminium, where there are no solutions (by rail) yet. This year, we are trying out some test transports for the first time using our own Roll-off Containers. We are learning a lot in the process, and we are working on a proof of concept where we can show that it is possible. The challenge here is the high value of the goods. Theft protection has top priority here. Another issue is the fluctuation in the value of the goods. If I send it off today and it arrives in five days, it has a different value than when I sent it off.

How do you deal with this challenge?

Christopher: We have sought contact with the industry and asked what they need. The number one issue was smaller containers. Our MOBILER is 30 feet in length. Until the container is full, it sits in the yard for too long and there is a risk of theft. Issue number two is that different alloys must not be mixed because this affects the quality in the melting process. Our solution is the Roll-off Container (ACTS). It is only 20 feet long and we can transport several smaller units with different alloys on one trolley. Like the MOBILER, the ACTS is a container and wagon system that can combine the advantages of rail and road and that we want to utilise more in the future.

In conclusion, it can be said that with Environmental Solutions, we have really achieved a paradigm shift in the RCG. For the first time, we are investing in equipment in advance without having a contract. Previously, it sometimes took us six to nine months to build (the containers) before we could get started. We are now investing proactively and concluding new contracts on an ongoing basis. The AWG has given the whole thing a new boost.

2023 at a glance:

  • Waste Management Act:
    • Entered into force in 2023
    • Originally from 50 tonnes and 400 km distance, if economically feasible
    • 2023 from 10 tonnes and 300 km
    • 2024 from 10 tonnes and 200 km
    • 2026 from 10 tonnes and 100 km
  • Common equipment: MOBILER
    • 300 wagons and 1,200 containers of different types
    • A further 1,200 MOBILER containers and 400 MOBILER carrier wagons procured by 2026. Among other things:
      • MOBILER semi-trailers
      • MOBILER bulk containers
      • MOBILER multitainers
  • Transport volumes: 1.85 million gross tonnes
  • Turnover approx. € 35 million
  • CO2 savings by switching to rail transport
  • Team size: 19 employees across all pillars incl. Segment Manager

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