JANUARY 13 saw the launch in Rotterdam of an alliance of private rail freight operators known as European Bulls.

The alliance is modelled on airline groupings such as the Star Alliance, which the Chairman of European Bulls Matthias Raith cited in his address as guaranteeing 'high quality over the entire route' even though the user, or his freight, is transported by several carriers. 'We are linking our services and operating areas to enable freight customers to use rail for their European long-haul transport requirements', he said.

Raith is Managing Director of rail4chem, which now has branches in Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland and has provided much of the impetus for the launch of European Bulls. Other members of the alliance are Ferrovie Nord Cargo of Milano, Italy, LTE of Graz, Austria, Viamont of Ustí nad Labem in the Czech Republic and Comsa Rail Transport, a Spanish track maintenance contractor planning to launch open access operations.

Noting that 'rail transport has steadily lost market share, particularly for transporting top-quality goods fast, reliably and safely', Raith said that 'the state railways have experienced difficulties in meeting the altered requirements of industry on account of their nationally-oriented and egoistic structures. We want to achieve a significant increase in rail's share of international transport services in the next few years.'

The alliance has set ambitious targets of growing its business by 35% a year and achieving a market share of 35% of European rail freight by 2015. To help bring this about it says it will pool experience and resources, plan services jointly, optimise capacity and integrate IT systems. The partners plan to combine their purchasing and to use English as a common language. According to European Bulls' General Manager Rob Spierings, the former head of ShortLines, the alliance has access to a fleet of more than 100 locos, and this could grow significantly over the next 10 years.

A key factor, according to Raith, is that 'one partner is responsible to the customer for handling the entire international service. Via European Bulls, this partner can guarantee that in all countries in which it does not operate itself it has partners ensuring under its responsibility the uniform quality of the transport services provided.'

The alliance is not exclusive and members are free to work with other partners; at the same time, European Bulls is seeking further partners especially in countries where the alliance is not yet represented. English Welsh & Scottish Railway and Europorte 2, Eurotunnel's open access subsidiary, were conspicuous by their presence at the launch. France is a major market where the alliance is seeking traffic - both rail4chem and Europorte 2 have operating licences for France. CFTA Cargo, part of the Connex group, has recently obtained a safety certificate and is expected to launch a service between northeast France and Germany later this year.

The alliance did not announce any new services, but it stressed progress being made with improvements to existing services such as Graz - Duisburg and Brescia - Rotterdam. FNC plans to operate its Siemens ES64 F4 electric locos from Brescia via Switzerland to Emmerich on the German/Dutch border as soon as it receives approval.

  • CAPTION: Alliance members participating in the launch of European Bulls were (from left to right) Pavel Skarabella of Viamont, Matthias Raith of rail4chem, Miguel Llevat of Comsa, Gerhard Eibinger and Dr Georg Pammer of LTE and Dr Luca Ronzoni of Ferrovie Nord Cargo
  • Following the restructuring of ICF intermodal services in December, the company has contracted Luxembourg Railways to operate open-access freight operations in Germany, hauling ICF trains between Köln and Bettembourg en route to and from Barcelona.
  • Connex Cargo Logistics GmbH has received approval from the German Cartel Office to acquire ThyssenKrupp Stahl subsidiary Dortmunder Eisenbahn GmbH, which last year handled 16 million tonnes of freight with 34 locos and 230 staff. Essen-based energy and chemical company RAG has sold its logistics arm to DB's freight holding company Stinnes AG for €85m.