SNCF bets on atypical transport and multi-modal solutions

SNCF’s 2010 objectives on freight transport are very ambitious and they focus more on overcoming the crisis by implementing niche services and a so-called “atypical traffic” (single wagon load, dangerous or perishable goods transport), developing complex port services (shunting, transhipment) and logistics services which involve several modes of transport and which are meant to boost competition during a time when its rival Deutsche Bahn tends to take over the European freight transport market. Experts say that SNCF’s response to DB’s fierce competition came at the right time, seeing as for several years the French company has been dealing with financial problems which have affected the quality of its services, as well as its position as one of the largest and most important European freight transport operators.

Fret SNCF’s new strategy has been labelled by some people as revolutionary, marking the company’s transition from a single wagon load operator – which has sometimes favoured major customers who manage to contract Fret SNCF for the transport of a higher number of wagons – to a Multilot/Multicustomer (MLMC) operator, which means that customers have to contract a sufficient number of wagons without discrimination. According to general manager Sylvie Charles, this new approach will be multicustomer-oriented, irrespective of the volume carried, and it will provide a higher level of quality.
The agenda of the new general manager is based on 5 main directions: developing new services, extending transport services on Pan-European Corridors, establishing an advantageous, long-term contract with RFF, re-launching combined transport and developing an attractive programme for single wagon load transport.
Single Wagon Load (SWL) has been severely affected by the economic crisis, recording around EUR 650 Million in exploitation costs in 2009 and a 30% drop in the number of orders, compared to the 15% average recorded at the level of the entire group. According to Sylvie Charles, in order to develop efficient and reliable single wagon load transport services, it is necessary to contract 800.000 single wagons. In 2009, the company managed to contract only 380.000 single wagons. The crisis which affected the Block Train Load (BTL) sector determined customers to resort to rival modes of transport and operators instead of reducing the number of wagons and thus choosing single wagon load transport and remaining Fret SNCF customers. In order to attract these customers, as well as those who choose road transport, Fret SNCF plans to stimulate Single Wagon Load transport.

Anticipated fees,the key to a new financial strategy

Fret SNCF’s new strategy stipulates the introduction of anticipated transport fees. If customers pay in advance a large amount of the total transport fee, they benefit from reduced costs at the finalization of the transport in question. Those who choose not to pay will face increased costs at delivery. This way, Fret SNCF hopes to stabilize the exploitation costs for Single Wagon Load transport, estimating a 60% increase in SWL budgets, which will facilitate investments and attract new customers.
SNCF also plans to attract road transport customers by introducing services on preferential routes in collaboration with RFF. These routes are called “Trains Spot” and they ensure the transport of motor vehicles and components on a route and in a time interval selected by the customer. In order to achieve this objective, SNCF plans to adapt its wagon fleet to the requirements of this transport strategy.
SNCF has also developed multimodal services to include single wagon load transport. These services allow the annual transport of around 700.000 tonnes of freight in containers carried by air and delivered at Roissy Charles de Gaulle Airport on the TGV Nord network. The company also introduced rail-road services, such as rolling road (Ro-La) single wagon load, for small and medium road transport operators. David Azema, Managing Director of Strategy & Finance at SNCF, wishes to expand the American concept of short-distance freight transport in Europe. The first operators, including Fret SNCF, have already begun their activity in the beginning of 2010 in the ports of Le Havre and La Rochelle in France. Recently, a joint-venture Captrain-Arcelor Mittal has introduced short-distance freight transport services in the port of Bremen, providing services on a industrial network which covers the siderurgical areas in the region.

by Alin Lupulescu

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