The terminal railway at Bremen’s ports is 160 years old
Weser Station was the nucleus for the success of rail Transport
Statistically speaking, no other port in the world boasts a higher share of rail traffic than the ports in Bremen und Bremerhaven. Every second container heads for the hinterland on rail. Four out of every five cars arriving at Bremerhaven do so on railway tracks, before they are taken to destinations all over the world by ship. The ports of Bremen meanwhile rank amongst the leading global rail terminals.
This development dates back to 1 February 1860, in other words, exactly 160 years ago. 10 years earlier, in October 1850, the “railway deputation” had conducted in-depth research and investigations into the problems of connecting shipping and railway. Even then, it was undisputed that a port that wanted to compete successfully against other seaports had to offer good transport connections to the hinterland. Accordingly, the minutes of the meetings held at the time state: “It is evident that the cities we are competing against, which are already privileged because of their location compared with Bremen, are continuously improving their endeavours to link ocean shipping and rail traffic. By eliminating lay times and irksome expenses, they are attracting increasing transport volumes, viz. of transit traffic.” This was a serious warning to Bremen “not to lag behind, but to offer its trade partners, wherever expedient, all those conveniences which already have to be regarded as indispensable for a major trading centre.”
The urban development of Bremen itself further accelerated the matter. The railway line from Hanover had already reached Bremen by the year 1847 and “Hanover Station” was built near the site of the present central railway station. The next step was to secure those sites which were required to build a rail connection between the mainline to Hanover and the River Weser. 1.75 kilometres of tracks had to be laid to create the first link between Bremen’s port facilities and the long-distance rail network. Construction of the tracks between Hanover Station and the Weser was funded by Bremen’s government: the two-track line ran to the newly built Weser Station past four level crossings, secured with barriers, for instance at Contrescarpe and Nordstrasse. The next rail project followed seven years later, when a single-track line was laid between Oldenburg and Bremen; this also involved construction of the railway bridge across the Weser and a new railway station in Bremen’s new town, Neustädter Bahnhof.
Bremerhaven, too, had meanwhile realised the importance of rail transport for the port business. The Kingdom of Hanover had already built its own state-owned terminal railway at the back of Geestemünde Station to serve the cargo handling facilities in Bremerhaven. Hanover and Bremen signed a contract in which they agreed: “A railway track will subsequently be continued to the docks in Bremerhaven to enable carriage of rail freight traffic by means of locomotives on these self-same tracks.” Shortly before the end of the 19th century, the new and old ports as well as the fishing port could all be reached by rail.
The completion of Weser Station marked the start of a boom for rail traffic at the ports. Just five years after its inauguration, the railway handled a share of 80 per cent of the land transport volumes. It was thus self-evident that the terminal railway had to play a central role in the future development of the ports and generously dimensioned tracks were consequently an essential part of the plans for the subsequent major port development projects, such as construction of the Europahafen, the Überseehafen and the seven harbour basins of the Industriehafen.
Bremen’s ports suffered serious damage during World War II, with almost 90 per cent of the sheds and stores and a third of the terminal railway completely destroyed. However, reconstruction of the rail facilities was also an opportunity to install state-of-the-art technology. Signalling technology had changed radically and the new systems enabled shunting operations to be performed much faster. The megaphone was replaced by shunting radio and electrification of the terminal railway began in the mid-1960s.
The advent of containers meant that more and more of the port business in major cargo segments moved to Bremerhaven. By 1968, Bremerhaven had already started the construction of Container Terminal CT I in response to the changes in global trade. And once again, the terminal railway played a key role. The next transport infrastructure projects involved construction of the marshalling yard in Speckenbüttel and the storage track facilities at Imsumer Deich and in Weddewarden.
Port administration was reorganised at the start of the new century and the Senate department for the ports has also been responsible for rail infrastructure management since then. bremenports GmbH & Co. KG, the port management company founded in 2002, now attends to maintenance and development of the terminal railway on behalf of the Senate department on the basis of a Terminal Railway Master Plan which has been systematically implemented in recent years. Expansion of the storage track facilities at Imsumer Deich, electrification of Kaiserhafen and projects aimed at digitising operations and maintenance of the rail facilities are just some examples.
Plans are already being drawn up for the next project to strengthen the railway in Bremen and Bremerhaven: in close cooperation with Deutsche Bahn, additional tracks are to be laid at Speckenbüttel over the next few years. As always, the objective is to raise rail’s share of the modal split.
Dr Claudia Schilling, Senator for Science and the Ports, comments, “Bremen’s has always focussed on the close connections between rail and the ports and this has ensured that we are now one of the most dynamic rail terminals; rail accounts for an impressively high share of total hinterland traffic which is admired throughout Europe. However, this success depends entirely on continuous refurbishment, technical adjustments, expansion and investments. We have systematically been implementing the ‘Bremerhaven Terminal Railway Master Plan’ for years and thus strengthening Bremen’s role in the rail transport sector.”
“Especially when we look at our competitor ports in Western Europe, the terminal railway is one of our most impressive assets,” says Robert Howe, Managing Director of bremenports. “Avoiding climate impact will play a central role in the design of future transport chains. In Bremen and Bremerhaven we have been systematically strengthening the railway for 160 years. This is a strategy that will continue to pay off in future.”
Facts and figures:
• Total track length 193 km
• 7 stations
• 38,700 inbound and outbound trains per annum
• 500 switches
• Almost 70 km of overhead line installations
• 50 technically secured level crossings
• 4 signalboxes