Hupac, a giant of intermodal transport

ERS was purchased in 2018 by Hupac (photo Hupac)

Hupac AG is a Swiss group of companies active in intermodal rail freight transport. The name was derived from the german acronym « Huckepack » (piggyback in english), to retain only the contracted name « Hupac ». The headquarters are located in the border town of Chiasso in the canton of Ticino, in Switzerland. The company has approximately 100 shareholders. 72% of the shares are owned by logistics and transport companies while 28% are held by railway companies, thus guaranteeing both proximity to the market and the necessary independence from the railway incumbants. At the end of 2017, the Hupac Group consisted of 18 companies based in Switzerland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Russia and China.

Today the company is active on all segments of intermodal transport, such as maritime containers, road trailers or European swap bodies. It has its own terminals and wagon fleet, but does not manage locomotives that are entrusted to shareholder operators or other partners, such as ECR or Lineas.

The company employed around of 515 people and manages 120 intermodal trains a day, which is a sizeable windfall. Hupac’s 2019 ended with a 13% increase in the number of shipments carried out, thus reaching 1.047 million. The increase recorded by non-transalpine journeys was particularly remarkable, with a total of 455,266, an increase of 29.4% on last year’s figure, but the other two business segments also closed positively.

In the transalpine traffic passing through Switzerland, Hupac carried out the equivalent of 550,796 road transports (+2.8%), but showed a drop in demand in the second half of the year, as a result of the global economic slowdown. In the minority segment of transalpine traffic via France and Austria the improvement was +5.7%, for a total of 38,767 shipments.

Busto Arsizio and Gallarate (Italy) in only one picture

In 1967, the economy was booming, and the difficult traffic across the Alps increasingly hindered the trans-European flow of goods.  The Gotthard road tunnel did not yet exist, the trucks struggled to cross the pass road, which had to be closed during the winter. Innovative freight forwarders therefore founded Hupac Ltd together with SBB in 1967 with the aim of combining road and rail. The five pioneers were the transport companies Bertschi and F.lli Bernasconi, the forwarding agents Danzas and Jacky Maeder and the SBB. In 1968, the company started operating with 10 of its own wagons designed by Ferriere Cattaneo in Giubiasco. It was the first time that road hauliers invested in railway wagons.

Hupac’s first trains ran between Basel and Melide near Lugano, then in 1969 the young company expanded its traffic to Cologne and Milan, and a little later connections to Rotterdam, Hamburg, Singen and other destinations followed.

In 1992 Hupac set up shuttle trains for the first time between the Busto Arsizio terminal (northwest of Milan) and Cologne: block trains were used between two terminal stations on behalf of and at the commercial risk of the combined transport company. Then Hupac introduced so-called « the gateway » in Busto Arsizio in 1993, a terminal which is today the most important of Hupac. The loading units arriving on shuttle trains are further transported with other trains by reloading from wagon to wagon. This sorting and these unit exchanges make it possible to reach other economic areas, in particular Italian ports.

In 2018, Hupac acquired the railway operator ERS, including the shares in BoxXpress.

A giant terminal at the foot of the Alps
The Busto Arsizio terminal is the largest rail/road terminal in Europe. It can handle around 8 million tons per year and tranships around 420,000 intermodal transport units, which represents 42% of Hupac’s total European traffic. The terminal, which is entirely privately owned, was built in 1992 thanks to subsidised loans from the Swiss Confederation and the wish of the then mayor, Gian Pietro Rossi, to replace an older, narrower terminal dating from 1968. It includes a customs area.

The terminal was expanded in 2005 to include Gallarate’s direct neighbor. Together, these two terminals predicted saturation by 2010, which ultimately did not occur. The two terminals together occupy a total area of 242,800 square metres, have 12 handling gantry cranes, several kilometres of track and 231 parking spaces for semi-trailers. This space allows the operation of up to 60 Shuttle Net trains per day, which is equivalent to the theoretical daily transhipment of approximately 1,750 intermodal units.

Busto Arsizio/Gallarate is the central point of Hupac’s Shuttle Net network, which connects a large number of other terminals in Northern Europe on one of the richest industrial routes in the world, stretching from Lombardy to Rotterdam and Hamburg.

The Shuttle Net network of Hupac

At the heart of chemistry
In 2010, Hupac opened a new transhipment terminal in the port of Antwerp, in the heart of the chemical industry, which is a joint venture with BASF and the Belgian operator of the SNCB, IFB. This private terminal can handle 12 trains per day and tranship 600 intermodal units, exclusively for the continental chemical sector.

The antwerp’s Combinant terminal (photo Hupac)

Behind this initiative is the Swiss Bertschi Group, which is a major shareholder and founder of Hupac. This company owns 10,000 intermodal units and a fleet of almost 1,000 trucks. Almost every Hupac train carries at least one Bertschi container, as the company has spread throughout Europe. BASF is also an important customer of Hupac and is very interested in intermodal transport between its various plants in Europe.


This shows once again that only industrialists who know the business, can create the right flows based on their needs and not on political utopias.

But Hupac just does chemistry. The company has just opened a new link five times a week between Cologne and Perpignan, with the aim of targeting the Spanish market. Could Perpignan be France’s next Busto Arsizio? One can dream…

A Melzo-Rotterdam in dutch Limburg in april, 2019 (photo Rob Dammers via flickr license)