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When Hamburg has its own railway company to the hinterland

(Version en français)

Metrans AS is a Czech operator that operates combined transport trains and container terminals. The company was founded in 1948 (originally as an international transport company) and is headquartered in Prague. Its shareholder today is Hamburger Hafen und Logistik (HHLA), who has become the sole owner since April 1, 2018.

Why Hamburg ?

Shadowded for a time by the ports of Benelux, Hamburg reconquires over the years a place of choice in the North European port range. The reopening of Eastern European economies and the growth of Chinese trade have brought Hamburg forward more than any other European port since the early 2000s. With 8 million annual containers, Hamburg needed the means to evacuate this flow to a distant hinterland, as shown in the picture below. It is in this context that HHLA’s acquisition of a stake in Czech operator Metrans takes place.

(photo Metrans)

The involvement of HHLA, which is a logistics company owned by the City of Hamburg, shows how Europe has boosted the traffic that, before 1990, was very meager between the major Hanseatic port and Eastern Europe, closed by the Iron Curtain. It also shows that big projects can be built from a local perspective, without the central power getting involved. As we know, decentralization is part of German political culture and this gives remarkable results.

Hamburg therefore has not only four container terminals in the port, but a complete network of 13 terminals in its hinterland. HHLA can then manage its own flows and trains, which gives it a considerable advantage.

Terminal of Ceska Trebova (photo Metrans)


In 2017, Polzug Intermodal Polska, which operated between Hamburg and Poland, was integrated into Metrans before HHLA took over full management of the Czech company. With this merger, Hamburg now has a very large hinterland connected to its port terminals.

Metrans has its own fleet of locomotives and operates in open access throughout Central Europe, mainly to the Czech Republic and Hungary. The company owns a fleet of 2,000 wagons. Recently, Metrans began doing maneuvering operations in the port of Hamburg itself, as an short-line does. In 2017, Metrans transported more than one million TEU by rail.


One of the strengths of Metrans is that smaller terminals can be directly connected to Hamburg. But two difficulties must be taken into account: on the one hand, flows are not identical every day; and on the other hand, there is an imbalance between the import and export flow. The consequence is that trains loading are not the same throughout the week. Metrans must try to coordinate the volumes at the individual terminals, which vary on a daily basis. This is why Metrans organizes its own trains at the Hamburg-Waltershof station, grouping the wagons together to make one or more long trains according to demand.

Train dispatching is facilitated by the M.I.S. (Metrans Information System), developed in-house by Metrans, which works in a similar way to the special software for ship planning. It sets assumptions for the length or maximum recommended load of carriages, which must be combined with different loading points and destinations in order to obtain a logistically and economically viable combination of containers or carriages. This requires a lot of flexibility in the management of locomotives and drivers.

For their shuttle services, the terminals at the seaport load the import containers on to the block trains in any order. These are then sorted in Prague, Česká Třebová or Dunajská Streda. When exporting, the various trains also travel with a mixture of containers to the hub terminals in the hinterland, where the containers are then arranged into purely quayside trains.


There are, for example, 43 trains a week between Hamburg and Prague. The company operates not only block trains between the Czech terminals and the ports of Hamburg and Bremerhaven, but also from Prague to Lípa nad Dřevnicí and Dunajská Streda. In addition, it operates a route to the Adriatic via the ports of Koper and Rijeka. Metrans is not just to reach the Czech Republic. Direct connections are operated 8 times a week between Hamburg and Munich. Connections are also open with the port of Rotterdam, the main competitor of Hamburg and Bremen. The complete list of operations is located at this link.

The train service is provided by Metrans Rail, which was the former Railtrans company acquired by Metrans in 2011 and which provides the trains crews. Metrans Rail processes around 26,000 trains a year. The high frequency of the shuttle trains that travel back and forth between the seaport and the hub terminal with the same wagon arrangement is one of the secrets of Metrans’ success. This hub-and-shuttle principle saves money, energy and time spent shunting trains. As a result of the high traffic frequency, it also boosts reliability and flexibility, and therefore the appeal to customers. They are also helped by the fact that Metrans offers a full-service package: its core service is rail transport, and this is complemented by various services at the inland terminals, including customs clearance. Metrans also organises pre-carriage and on-carriage using trailers vehicles.

Locomotives fleet

Most of the Metrans traction fleet consists of Bombardier TRAXX locomotives. Originally, it involved leasing from a variety of companies, including Alpha Train and Railpool. Then, the first 20 TRAXX F140 MS machines were delivered in September 2014 in D / A / CZ / SK / HU / PL configuration. These are owner machines registered in the Czech Republic. The then CEO, Jiri Samek, justified the purchases: « With more than 90 weekly connections between Hamburg and terminals in Prague and Ceska Trebova, for example, reliable production have for us a great importance. » At Bombardier, there was a lot of enthusiasm: « HHLA subsidiary Metrans’ TRAXX locomotives are the first Bombardier locomotives to be used in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. » It was an important gateway for the Canadian group. Metrans TRAXX is supplied as a 386 series in the Czech Republic.

(photo HHLA – Lubomír Vosáhlo)

In July 2015, Metrans exercised the option signed with Bombardier in 2013 for 10 additional TRAXXs, bringing to 30 the number of locomotives acquired. In this lot, three machines benefited from the ETCS and the Dutch ATB railway signaling system for freight services to and from Rotterdam (NL). At the beginning of 2016, the first TRAXXs circulated in Poland while the machines planned in the NL configuration arrived in the Netherlands in 2017.

In 2018, twenty other machines were operated by various leasing companies. The French company Akiem has thus leased from Metrans for 6 TRAXX AC3, the latest Bombardier model. Metrans also has 8 Siemens ER20 diesel locomotives. In addition, for its maneuvering in terminals, Metrans still has 17 diesel engines. Alstom delivered two Prima H3 hybrid locomotives for local operations in the port of Hamburg.

One of the V90 shunter locomotive (photo Metrans Obrazek)

Martin Horinek, Chief Operating Officer of Metrans, explains: « The Metrans business model is based on the convergence and optimization of all the processes in the transport chain between the seaport and the customers into the hinterland. With our own locomotives, we can better control Metrans’ transport processes. This will allow us to be even more reliable, to be more flexible in response to our customers’ requests and to offer new services. »

Metrans has its own maintenance subsidiary, Metrans Dyko, located in Kolin, Czech Republic. This depot, which was built in 1940, was bought in 2007 and also manages the rolling stock of other operators, including Regiojet. He is certified for all Bombardier, Siemens and Skoda locomotives.

This company would not have been possible without the German and European rail policy. This shows that with an open environment, we can not only create new traffic, but also create jobs not only for the railway but also to perpetuate port traffic and consolidating its positions. This is what the port of Hamburg understood by taking the lead of Czech carrier Metrans. By this strategy, this port, located in the north of Europe, can foresee its future and even expand its business to other activities than strictly port operations.





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L’auteur de ce blog

Frédéric de Kemmeter
Analyste ferroviaire & mobilité

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