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ZSSK CARGO: Unconventional cereal transport? Special, unplanned and one-off transports of agro-commodities

ZSSK CARGO: Unconventional cereal transport? Special, unplanned and one-off transports of agro-commodities
photo: ZSSK CARGO press materials/ZSSK CARGO: Unconventional cereal transport? Special, unplanned and one-off transports of agro-commodities
11 / 02 / 2022

Agricultural commodities transport by rail is largely concentrated on the transport of cereals. They usually go to large customers, such as biofuel producers, flour mills, or seaports. However, there are also exceptions and one-off transports, for which ZSSK CARGO uses a less common type of wagons today.

Transport of Cereals in Europe

The largest quantities of cereals in Europe are grown in its eastern part - in the fertile fields of Ukraine, Romania and Hungary. From here, continuous flows of unit trains go to seaports for export, as well as to processors throughout Europe. As these are stable and large volumes, the competition here is relentless. It is exacerbated by the fact that most high-capacity wagons are in the hands of private companies and lessors who only need multisystem locomotives to move around Europe. Slovakia is crossed by these trains across the corridor from Štúrovo to Kúty, but ZSSK CARGO also takes part in the transports, which are transferred from a wide gauge on our eastern border in Ukraine, for their way to Germany.

Grain Transport by Rail in Slovakia

Domestic transport of food products by rail is rather a rarity in Slovakia. There is competition not so much between railway companies as between rail and road. Short distances, different loading and unloading points - all this is in favor of truck transport. Exceptions are imports to the largest producer of biofuels in Slovakia in Leopoldov or exports from large grain elevators from southern Slovakia abroad. Although most agro-commodities end up in methanol production, flour mills, or for feeding animals, there is another important type of industry that would not exist without cereals, namely barley: brewing.

Malted Shipments

To brew beer, its basic substance - malt - is needed. In simplicity, it is a sprouted and dried cereal grain. The polysaccharides in the grains are broken down into simple carbohydrates which are suitable for fermentation. And this is desirable when making whiskey or beer. Breweries in Slovakia also consume a large amount of malt. But one producer in the very east of Slovakia produces it mainly for export. This is the company Sladovňa, a.s. Michalovce, which specializes in Czech and Pilsen-type malts. Virtually all production is exported, with the most important customers of the malting plant to be found in Romania, Moldova, Russia and Poland. The company takes most of the barley from more than 120 farms in the fertile lowlands of eastern Slovakia. However, with a consumption of 40,000 tons per year, it is sometimes necessary to replenish supplies from neighboring countries. And this is where ZSSK CARGO enters the scene.

Use of Special Wagons

The biggest problem in the effort to increase the involvement of the railways in the transport of agro-commodities is the lack of wagons in Europe. All of them are used in pan-European transport, so there is no room for ad-hoc and one-off transport. Fortunately, ZSSK CARGO has wagons in its fleet, which, although they have already had their best years, are still a welcome addition when there is a need for transport in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. These are the Hadgs wagons. Although they look like ordinary covered wagons for pallet shipments, this is not the case. The side sliding doors help for easy access, but after they are hermetically sealed, they are loaded from above through three openings on the roof of each of them. Gravity and specially adapted floor hoppers will take care of the unloading.

Grain Train Opava - Michalovce

The malting company needed to transport a larger volume of barley from the NAVOS warehouse in Opava, North Moravia, for its malt production. Thanks to the siding, it has the opportunity to load cereals directly into the wagons. And although trucks are used for these transports by default, this time the choice fell on a more environmentally friendly form of transport. At the beginning of December 2021, 24 Hadgs wagons were loaded here for three days. After fifteen wagons, the remaining nine wagons were placed on the siding, each with a loading volume of 95 m3. In total, the train transported almost 2,300 m3 of barley. One of the reliable Class 131 locomotives of ZSSK CARGO was connected at the head the heavy set carrying 1,500 tons of barley. Locomotive 131 035/036 transported this unit train almost to its destination station. After crossing the Ostrava-Karviná region, this train climbed over the Jablunkov Pass, crossed over the currently reconstructed Žilina junction, managed a challenging climb to the Štrbská Pass, and after passing Košice it has reached Trebišov.

Last Kilometres with Aged Locomotives

Traction change is necessary here, as the line leading from Trebišov through Michalovce, Strážske, Humenné to Medzilaborce is not electrified. Class 751 and 752 locomotives, which will have to be replaced by more modern machines in the coming years, have been taking care of local train services for many years. After years of service, they are at the end of their lifespan, but they are currently irreplaceable helpers with regional trains, as well as helpers of the last kilometers for unit trains that need to be transported to the final destination. Without them, ZSSK CARGO would not be able to offer competitive offers to customers. And although the skilled teams in the ZSSK CARGO and ŽOS Zvolen depots and repair shops are doing their utmost to keep these popular locomotives in operation for as long as possible, it is high time to consider replacing them. Even in the case of Moravian barley, they successfully hauled the cargo to Michalovce and put the wagons on a siding for unloading. Thousands of customers who like to indulge in a pint of beer from breweries producing from  Michalovce malt will indulge in a dewy pint this summer, thanks to the aged, but reliable wagons and locomotives of ZSSK CARGO.

Bidirectional use of wagons

At the beginning of 2022, three more barley trains are heading for the Sladovňa siding. This time they are loaded in Austrian wagons and ZSSK CARGO takes care of their transport along the longest route that can be completed by rail in Slovakia: from the border with Austria to Michalovce. After loading barley in the grain elevators in Korneuburg, Austria, due to the technical problems of the usual Bratislava Petržalka crossing station, unit trains are directed exceptionally through the crossing station in Devínská Nová Ves in independent traction. After more than 500 kilometers across Slovakia and unloading of barley, empty wagons do not return to Austria. In Michalovce, malt is loaded into them and so the set is fully used in both directions. Malt-laden trains depart for Stadlau on the outskirts of Vienna to be reloaded with barley for another turn of processing it in eastern Slovakia.


Source: ZSSK CARGO press materials