Paper: An Industry in Transition

08. 05. 2024

The paper market has undergone some major upheavals over the years – from fewer newspapers and catalogues to more cardboard and less plastic packaging. The market is subject to constant change – and this requires not only a high degree of flexibility in logistics but also a broad knowledge of the industry and its needs.

While paper may appear to be a simple product at first glance, transporting it presents a number of logistical challenges. Bernhard Lackner, Segment Manager for the paper sector who has been employed with ÖBB for 38 years, and Nina Syrovy, sales specialist and paper industry expert, talk about the complex world of paper transport.

What is paper?

Bernhard: When people hear the word “paper”, most think of paper for printing or photocopying. But it is much more than just that. As a rule, it can be divided up into four overarching categories: The first is graphic papers, meaning anything that can be printed on, such as copy paper, newspapers, brochures, telephone directories, catalogues and much more. The second large group is packaging paper, which includes cardboard and corrugated cardboard. The third category is sanitary paper, such as toilet paper, kitchen rolls or serviettes. And the fourth is speciality paper – label paper, banknote paper, etc. In the Rail Cargo Group, however, we not only transport the finished product but also the associated raw materials, like waste paper and pulp.

So, basically, everyone has come into contact with the paper we transport?

Nina: That’s right, and in the most diverse areas of life. Almost everyone is familiar with packaging from the big online mail order companies or the small burger boxes from well-known fast food chains. These are already the end customers, however. Our customers include both, the manufacturers of these products as well as haulage companies. And we offer more than just transport in our segment – we also provide storage, mainly in Austria and Italy.

A RCG warehouse in Desio, Italy

What makes working with paper transports so special?

Nina: The diversity. It’s not just about blank white pieces of paper – but much more. And then there is the logistical challenge: Each paper product has different dimensions. When transporting large rolls of paper to print shops, you need different equipment than for format paper in pallets, pulp or waste paper. Choosing the right means of transport, securing the paper properly – while focusing on moisture or on hygiene when it comes to deliveries for the food industry – these are the challenges I enjoy every day.

Less newspapers, more cardboard packaging: The paper industry is constantly changing, isn’t it?

Bernhard: That’s certainly true. The production of graphic paper is declining significantly – the print runs of newspapers, telephone directories, catalogues and brochures clearly demonstrate this year after year. At the same time, the demand for packaging paper is increasing: away from plastic and towards paper and cardboard. One example is the straws for the big fast food chains: Plastic straws have now become paper straws. While these are small changes individually, taken together they are causing a radical change in the industry and therefore also in our transport operations. And then, of course, there are factors such as the blockade of the Suez Canal* or the coronavirus, which of course also had an impact on the market and showed how vulnerable supply chains can be.

Nina: The demands placed on markets and products are changing dramatically – we notice this every day in our work with our customers. As a logistics specialist, you need to react innovatively and flexibly and find solutions as quickly as possible.

Are there specific routes that we serve?

Nina: The transporting of paper mainly involves single wagonload transport. The Austrian paper industry exports over 85 percent of its products abroad. A large proportion of this goes via the Port of Koper, which is the most important destination for us. Pulp is mainly imported via ports, although local paper mills also produce some of the pulp, which is made from wood. Waste paper transports tend to be regional and generally do not travel such long distances.

At a Glance

  • Organisation of Europe-wide end-to-end deliveries: Transshipment, warehouse, pre-carriage and subsequent carriage organisation
  • High-quality wagon equipment
  • A total volume of 2.4 million per year, including:
    • 1.6 million tonnes of graphic paper, packing paper and sanitary paper
    • 0.5 million tonnes of pulp
    • 0.3 million tonnes of waste paper

Are you interested in paper transport? You can contact us directly here.


* A huge container ship, the Ever Given, blocked the Suez Canal for almost a week, causing considerable disruption to global shipping traffic.