MAN Truck & Bus

Aerial view of the DUSS container terminal in UlmAerial view of the DUSS container terminal in Ulm

The DUSS terminal in Ulm: from road to rail


The Ulm-Dornstadt transshipment station operated by Deutsche Umschlaggesellschaft Schiene-Straße (DUSS) plays a key role in the Rhine-Danube transport corridor that stretches from Strasbourg to the Black Sea. The terminal is progressing full steam ahead with pilot projects in the areas of digitisation and automation and with building an extension. Insights into the logistics of this exciting interface between road and rail.

Aerial view of the DUSS container terminal in Ulm
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Combined transports The DUSS terminal in Ulm brings road and rail together.

The sound of the DUSS terminal in Ulm is shaped by the contact of metal on metal. A metallic tone can be heard every time one of the huge containers being handled here is carefully set down. The warning signals from the crane equipment and the many trucks that pass through the transshipment station on a daily basis also contribute to the dense cacophony at the terminal site. There’s no question that the traffic at the DUSS terminal in Ulm is rolling – at not infrequent intervals, as terminal manager Andreas Huf can confirm: “We deal with around 30 trains a week and have an average of 400 trucks that visit our site each day.”

This high capacity utilisation indicates that the transshipment station’s intermodal concept is a great success. “Intermodal refers to goods that are transported via at least two different modes of transport. We also use the term combined traffic”, explains Andreas Huf. “In our case it’s the combination of road and rail.” And the 30-year-old adds that freight transport by truck and train has been growing rapidly for years. “The effort to be eco-friendly plays a large part in this. There are far fewer CO₂ emissions when transport by lorry and by rail efficiently complement each other. Companies find that attractive.”

The loading and unloading of trucks and trains

A train that is several hundred metres long is just pulling into the transshipment station on the eastern edge of the site. Among other things, its load includes pasta from Italy. A train on the adjacent track that pulled in two and a half hours ago is already halfway through the process. The three gantry cranes in the terminal glide back and forth on the 700-metre-long rail track to load containers onto the waiting trucks or pick them up from there.

The loading and unloading is a routine process with established procedures. Trucks with containers arriving at the DUSS terminal via road are initially inspected at the check-in point on the site’s large forecourt. “Our inspectors check the containers for rail suitability and road safety. An extended inspection is conducted on customs containers and dangerous goods. Once a container is released, the truck driver reports to what we call the agency in the terminal building. There they’re assigned to one of the 27 grid spaces located directly next to the four tracks. They then drive to that space to deliver their goods and possibly take new ones on board”, explains Andreas Huf. At the same time the crane drivers receive electronic information on the screen in their crane cab as to whether the container is to be loaded onto a train or initially put into intermediate storage. The process is very fast – it generally takes twelve minutes per truck.

Trains are dealt with in an average of five hours. After entering the DUSS terminal, a loadmaster initially conducts an entry reconciliation. This means that they walk along the train and reconcile the numbers of wagons and all the loading units (LU) against a list. The train is released if everything has arrived as announced. Andreas Huf: “Then the sorting takes place: empty containers go to our neighbouring logistics partner DB Intermodal and the remainder is transferred to trucks or to the interim storage facility. After that the loading of a train begins.”

„Anyone having to transport their goods over long distances is well served by combined traffic.“

Andreas Huf
Manager of the DUSS Terminal in Ulm

Capacity is to be doubled by 2030

A large aerial view of the DUSS site in Ulm-Dornstadt hangs in a frame in the terminal building. It clearly shows how compactly the interface between road and rail has been designed. Trucks reach the site via a roundabout and then only have to cover short distances between the forecourt, track facilities and container storage area. Access is soon to be eased by means of dedicated entry and exit slip roads on the southbound A8 motorway.

DUSS states that the transshipment station in Ulm has been recording the highest growth rates of all 24 locations in Germany for years in terms of loading units (LU). Andreas Huf elaborates: “We handled around 67,000 LU in 2010, by 2016 it was already 100,000 and it’s currently 120,000 per year.” The hub is now reaching its capacity because the number of LU has increased steadily since the Ulm terminal went into operation in 2005. It will therefore be expanded by a second transshipment module from 2024.

Four tracks will be added to the existing four at the west of the existing facility, plus a spare track. Three more gantry cranes will serve the new tracks over a length of 720 metres. Increasing the size of the forecourt for trucks and semi-trailers should also prevent backlogs on the A8. “The second module will double our capacity by 2030”, announces Andreas Huf. “Shifting transport from road to rail, which the extension of our site will enable, means we will reduce CO₂ emissions by around 100,000 tons a year.”

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1. pre-stowage area

Waiting area for trucks and articulated lorries until they are registered at check-in.

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2. Check-in

Here, the terminal staff register the containers arriving on trucks and check them for road safety.

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3.Terminal building

Office and staff rooms are housed here. A total of 35 people work at the transshipment terminal in the office, in the crane runway or as warehouse specialists. The terminal also houses the agency where the trucks are assigned grid positions in the crane runway.

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4.Crane railway

Freight trains up to 700 metres long stop here on four tracks. Three gantry cranes load and unload them.

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5. grid bays

The crane runway includes 27 parking spaces for trucks. They park here while containers are unloaded or loaded from the gantry cranes.

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6. cargo storage

Up to 170 TEU standard containers of 20 feet (6.09 metres) each can be stored temporarily in this area. As a rule, they remain there for one day. In addition, 750 TEU can be stored in the crane runway.

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The path of goods through the DUSS Terminal Ulm Trucks, trains and containers pass through these stations when they pass through the logistics hub on the edge of the Swabian Alb.

"Thanks to the expansion and with the help of digitization and automation of processes, the DUSS site in Ulm will reach the next level - and become a future-oriented showcase terminal for combined transport."

Andreas Huf
Manager of the DUSS Terminal in Ulm

Digitising and automating operations

DUSS wants to exploit the new build to bid farewell to manual processes. Digitised and automated operations are intended to increase the transshipment station’s efficiency. This involves a series of pilot projects to achieve that objective. One example is the ANITA cooperation project launched by MAN Truck & Bus, Deutsche Bahn AG, Götting KG and Fresenius University of Applied Sciences in July 2020. ANITA stands for “Autonome Innovation im Terminalablauf” (Autonomous Innovation in Terminal Operations). The project aims to achieve quicker and more flexible container handling and thus increase efficiency in combined traffic. The main role is played by a fully automated truck from MAN, which independently transports empty containers back and forth between the DUSS terminal and its neighbouring partner DB Intermodal Services. Achieving this objective involved analysing the systematic interaction of people and machines on the route concerned and advancing the preparation of the necessary digital infrastructure. The truck’s first assessment run is planned for July 2021 – under the supervision of a safety driver from MAN. “This will involve the truck driving from DB Intermodal onto a public road and through the roundabout, including inspection at the check-in point and continuing to a destination point on our site”, explains Andreas Huf. “Based on the data we collate, we can proceed to the next stage of our automation.”

Another project to advance digitisation in the area of slot management will start its trial phase at the DUSS terminal in Ulm in August 2021. “Currently the truck drivers have to come to us in the terminal building to be assigned a slot in the crane’s runway. We’re planning to make this paperless by introducing an app that will reduce pedestrian movements, waiting times for truck drivers and interfaces. DUSS is collaborating with a start-up to develop the app. It is actively involving freight forwarders in the project phase so that the end product is advantageous for both sides – DUSS and the transport companies.

Automation of the gantry cranes is also an important issue for the transshipment station. The intention is that crane drivers will no longer sit in their cranes in the new terminal module, but instead in a control centre in the terminal building. “That will enable them to control several cranes at the same time”, explains logistics expert Huf. Inspections at the check-in point should also be faster. Huf states that “We’re currently working on video gates that can register the arriving containers and inspect their roadworthiness.”

All of these processes will ultimately be combined in the fully-featured DUSS software called Betriebs-Leitsystem-Umschlagbahnhöfe (BLU – an operating control system for transshipment stations). Terminal manager Andreas Huf is looking forward to these developments over the coming years. He looks out of a window in the terminal building and points to the open spaces on which the new facility will be built. He is certain that “Thanks to the expansion and with the help of process digitisation and automation through projects such as ANITA, the DUSS site in Ulm will reach the next level – and become a pioneering showcase terminal for combined traffic.”

Text   Susanne Theisen
Photos   DUSS, MAN


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