The Danube as a transport route is significant for voestalpine in Linz. Some of the goods and raw materials it needs and part of its finished goods are delivered via this waterway.
And it is probably safe to say that the importance of the Danube as a transport route for voestalpine Stahl GmbH will not change much in the coming years. Every year, between 3.5 and around 4 million tons of goods are handled through the company’s port in Linz. This makes the 66,000-square-meter site the busiest port along the river’s almost 3,000 kilometers. Logistik Service GmbH, a one-hundred-percent subsidiary of voestalpine Stahl GmbH, is responsible for smooth operation of the company port and for the logistical handling of the goods being transported by water. At the company port, around 20 employees and two tugboats are deployed. Its Commercial Managing Director, Christian Janecek, even believes that the Danube must remain an important transport route for his company: “Otherwise, we would not be able to handle transport ideally at the Linz site.”
After all, almost one third of inbound goods, raw materials, such as coal and especially iron ore, for voestalpine in Linz arrive on the waterway. Two thirds are brought by rail. And even 10% of outbound finished goods are transported by ship.
Transport by truck is trending up
“The big challenge for transport by water is, of course, reliability,” says Janecek. “The infrastructure of individual sections of the route could really use some improvement.” It is pretty certain that every year in the summer, there will be low water levels on the part of the Danube that flows through Bavaria. Then, the loads on the ships have to be lightened or they cannot continue their journey. Additionally, there is occasional flooding, ice, or a lock closure. Thus, significant management effort is concealed behind the seemingly uncomplicated, straightforward transport by ship. In contrast, a shipment by truck arrives within two days in 99% of cases. In any case, road transport is indispensable if the customer does not have a rail connection or a port. “Therefore, the trend is naturally moving toward transport by truck,” Christian Janecek admits. “Increasingly, this has to do with scheduling. At least since the crisis of 2008/09, customers are trying to keep their inventories low and place orders at short notice.”
So what is the case for the Danube?
As far as incoming traffic is concerned, the matter is clear. A truck can load around 25 tons and is deployed at best for aggregates for alloys, which are only needed in small quantities. In contrast, around 1,000 tons of ore generally do not present a problem for a river freighter. Provided, of course, that the water level at the critical points is high enough. Nevertheless, Janecek is convinced of the river’s importance: “In any case, voestalpine has relatively long and complex logistics routes for raw materials before it can deploy them. The Danube is a very important transport route because then we are not just dependent on the railways.”
The proportion of finished goods, such as strip steel for the major customers voestalpine Krems GmbH or voestalpine Steel Service Center Romania SRL and heavy plate for customer projects worldwide that leave the company site by ship has remained constant for years, Janecek confirms: “In recent years, we experienced strong growth at our site, and we are trying not to let truck transport grow sky-high. We wouldn’t be able to handle that—nor would the roads around us. We tend to have more capacity for water-borne transport.” The state-owned company viadonau, which is responsible for managing and maintaining the Danube’s infrastructure in Austria, actually states that just 15% of the river’s capacity is being utilized.