Berlin The winter can come: the motorway maintenance depots from Flensburg to Rosenheim are storing a good 400,000 tons of road salt these days in order to be prepared for the cold days and to be able to react quickly when ice and snow threaten to paralyze traffic. The transit country Germany has to function.
Bavaria alone needs well over 100,000 tons, but there will be a lot of traffic jams. The reason is not the climate: The federal motorway company does not receive the salt via rail or inland waterway, the perfect means of transport for bulk goods such as road salt.
Countless trucks are moving out, and tens of thousands of journeys are necessary to get the masses into the warehouse. In other federal states, the new central authority is unlikely to act any differently.
It’s strange: Germany has set itself ambitious climate targets and has to save an incredible amount of CO2 in the transport sector. At the same time, however, the federal authority has the delivery of road salt tendered and awarded in Bavaria with Heilbronner Südwestdeutsche Salzwerke AG (“Bad Reichenhaller”) to a company that is half owned by the green state of Baden-Württemberg, owns a shipping company and is still public , bypasses taxpayers’ money-financed inland ports.
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The tender documents are available to the Handelsblatt. There are nine lots for 180,000 tons of de-icing salt. 140,000 tons of this could be transported by barge to Nuremberg, Kelheim or Straubing, for example, and then the remaining kilometers to the stipulated halls could be driven by truck, as it was called in industry circles. But the tender is clearly designed for the truck – and should stay that way.
Is the transport climate-friendly?
“The economic choice of the means of transport is left to the contractor,” explains the Federal Ministry of Transport on request. “The existing locations / salt halls in the motorway maintenance depots and the currently used central warehouse were supplied.”
The Vice President of the Federal Association of German Inland Shipping, Roberto Spranzi, criticized the practice. It contradicts “the fundamental political will to shift the transport of goods from the road to the railways and waterways in order to protect the environment and relieve the infrastructure.”
Those responsible did not want to comment on the Südwestsalz. It just said that it “depends on many factors” which means of transport is the best for the respective logistics concept. There was also no comment on reports that the offer was 42 percent above that of the previous year.
On the other hand, for the state of Baden-Württemberg as a shareholder, Transport Minister Winfried Hermann (Greens) said: “In general, with such tenders, it is important to ensure that the transports are carried out as climate-friendly as possible,” he says.
This should be “an important award criterion”. The large salt stores and the motorway maintenance depots had “neither a port nor a rail connection”. They would therefore have to be supplied by road. He hopes for hydrogen or electric trucks. But experts disagree. When delivering by ship, traffic jams on high-traffic motorways such as the A3, A6, A9, A73 and A99 can be reduced.
The salt stores are all empty today
Obviously there is no longer any interest in renting large salt warehouses. This was only an “interim solution” in 2010, according to the Federal Ministry, “until sufficient storage capacity could be created at the master workshops by enlarging the existing decentralized salt halls directly at the master workshops and building additional salt halls directly on the motorway”. But no ship or train can stop there. Instead, the trucks drive many thousands of kilometers with salt – and come back empty.
“Most of the salt” is “transported directly to the decentralized warehouses at the master workshops by truck”, confirms the ministry. Nobody would stand in front of empty warehouses when it snows. The concern was “reduced by building our own storage capacity on site”.
Years ago, however, road salt storage facilities were specially built at port locations, for example in Regensburg for Südsalz AG, which has long been part of the Heilbronn company. There is no longer any salt in the hall, but rather heavy goods. A lot of salt was once stored in the port of Straubing-Sand, today not a gram, instead it is more fertilizers and biomass.
Scheuer advertises with funding for ship transports
“From an economic point of view, it is not understandable to transport road salt by truck,” says Andreas Löffert, head of the Straubing port. It was only in the summer that he celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Zweckverbandhafen in the presence of Federal Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer (CSU). He used funds to promote the relocation of traffic to the ship and said: “The money is there, take it.” The festival took place in a circus tent.
The Bavarian Ministry of Transport is amazed at the federal government. “Should it be the case that the Autobahn GmbH no longer provides the option of using halls for salt handling in Bavarian ports, this is incomprehensible from our point of view,” explained a spokesman.
In its current tenders, the Free State “leaves it up to the competition and thus to potential contractors as to how the transport chain is designed. So you could definitely choose partial transport by ship or train. “
But this is perceived differently in the ports. “Politicians pay lip service to wanting to shift traffic to ships,” port operators openly criticize. The administration is slowing down and introducing public procurement law instead of going forward boldly and pretending that a supplier is only allowed to emit as much CO2 as necessary. The ports are easily able to handle 50 percent more goods by ship than they are today.
The state-owned Bayernhafen company shows how desolate the situation is. According to the last 2019 annual report, just three million tons were handled by ship in the ports of Bamberg, Nuremberg, Roth, Regensburg and Passau.
In 2020 it was hardly any more, “about 10,000 tons” of road salt, as a spokeswoman said. In 2005, goods of almost six million tons were still handled on the ship. At least that is how much the train can do now. While the shares of rail and trucks grow, ship transport continues to shrink. “The ports are mutating into large train stations,” is the critical comment on the transshipment centers.
Cash in ports – with and without shipments
Obviously, the ports themselves are not necessarily interested in intervening. You cash in one way or another: the tenants have to promise quantities that they will handle via the ship in the port. Every ton less means penalties. “You can build a port with taxpayers money, transfer the risk of relocating capacity to the settlers and prescribe imputed goals that they have to offset in addition to the location costs,” port customers annoy about the status quo. There is talk of one euro net per missed ton and rising rents.
The Straubing port boss Löffert asks, however: “How should investors bring their guaranteed quantities if the contracting authorities do not help?”
The state-owned Bayernhafen officially describes its ports as “key points for the shift of traffic” and the “trimodal networking of the modes of transport ship, rail and truck and the resulting attractiveness of the location, especially for companies in the transport and logistics sector”, as a “success factor”. At the Bavarian ports, tourist ships now account for a considerable part of the turnover.
Road salt is unlikely to arrive for the motorway company in the near future. “The winter season 2021/22 will be advertised in the same way as the summer season”, declared the Federal Ministry.
More: Empty construction sites and miles of traffic jams: chaos at the Autobahn company.