The province of Brabant is fast becoming the primary logistics region of the Netherlands. This success is not only due to a favourable geographical location. It is also the result of a complete mix of transport modalities, the availability of skilled personnel, good infrastructure and close cooperation between entrepreneurs and government agencies. In addition, the logistics 'hotspots' in the province are also fully committed to innovation, often referred to as ‘smart logistics’. These are the factors that encouraged international companies such as Bol.com, Lidl, Primark and DHL to choose Brabant as the location for their European distribution centres in recent years.
Of the more than 600 billion kilos of gross weight of goods transported from abroad to the Netherlands, 60 percent leaves the country again after transhipment. That huge flow of goods is increasingly processed in five logistics ‘hotspots’ in the Netherlands, according to an analysis published by Statistics Netherlands (CBS) based on 2018 figures.
The two best performing ‘hotspots’ are Tilburg-Waalwijk and West Brabant. Goods transport to and from the logistics hubs, i.e. the transhipment sites, in the Netherlands grew by almost 18 percent between 2010 and 2017. In addition to the hubs in Brabant, there are further major centres in Venlo-Venray, Rivierenland and Utrecht. That processing rate is almost eleven times faster than outside these logistics regions. Of the 1.1 billion tonnes of goods transhipped to or from barges, trucks or trains in 2017, one of these five hotspots was the origin or destination in the case of one quarter of that tonnage. For the most part, these goods were travelling to or from the port of Rotterdam.
This logistics success is widely recognised. In 2020, Tilburg-Waalwijk was even named ‘logistics hotspot of the year’ for the second time by Dutch magazine Logistiek, with West Brabant taking second place. According to Statistics Netherlands (CBS), West Brabant has even become the most important centre for container handling in recent years. This is partly because small seagoing vessels calling at Rotterdam can sail on to Moerdijk to load or unload.
With the major seaports of Rotterdam and Antwerp not far away, easily accessible international airports and the traditional transport axes to the south and east of Europe, the province of North Brabant is by nature a logical place for transhipment. The large choice of different modes of transport also plays a major role.
For example, Brabant boasts six terminals where goods brought in by other modes of transport can be transferred to trains and vice versa. The aim is to encourage the use of railway transport without placing an additional burden on the already busy railway line that passes through Breda, Tilburg and Eindhoven. Furthermore, a direct rail connection between Tilburg and China has been in operation since 2016. This makes it possible to transport goods from Chengdu into the European continent via Railport Brabant and the Port of Rotterdam within 15 days.
The Chengdu-Tilburg-Rotterdam-Express is of great importance for international trade with China and Eastern Europe. In contrast to the inadequate waterways in many countries, the majority of countries in Europe and Asia do have a good rail network. Rail is the ideal solution for transporting large volumes over medium to long distances. The strategic location of Railport Brabant makes the terminal an excellent starting point for train transport from and to Central Europe.
There are also programmes for increasing and improving the use of the waterways in Brabant. The Wilhelminakanaal in Tilburg has been widened and deepened and the Zuidwillemsvaart has been rerouted via the Maxima-kanaal in 's-Hertogenbosch and adapted to accommodate larger and longer ships.
Initiatives to divert the flow of goods from road to rail exploit the opportunities that exist for pooling cargo flows to the seaports, making transport faster and more efficient. The West Brabant corridor, which runs towards Rotterdam, is an example of this. Container flows from terminals in Tilburg, Oosterhout and Moerdijk are grouped on their journey to the deep-sea ports.
An ample supply of business parks, a well-developed infrastructure and the various modes of transport are not the only ingredients. Brabant intends to go one step further. ‘Smart logistics’ is an area where this province has established a convincing lead. For example, the Logistics Community Brabant (LCB) was established in 2018 by Eindhoven University of Technology, Tilburg University, the Netherlands Defence Academy and Breda University of Applied Sciences, among others.
As the innovation region in the Netherlands, Brabant aims to lead the way by developing new traffic solutions that can be applied subsequently throughout Europe. “We focus on testing and putting into practice smart mobility applications on a large scale. Both for car and bicycle traffic and for public transport and the logistics sector”, according to a spokesperson of the provincial authority. “A further aim is to minimise congestion and negative environmental impacts. This takes the form of projects to encourage driving outside peak traffic periods and promote cargo grouping to reduce the number of empty or half-empty trucks on the road, and incentives that favour alternative modes of transport.”
So the LCB works together with regional and local partners in several areas, one of which is the E-Joint Corridors development, which targets uniform and structured processing of freight documentation for goods transport.
“This optimises the entire logistics process”, comments the LCB. Shippers and carriers moving goods from the same point of origin or to the same destination are brought together in order to achieve economies of scale in inland shipping and hinterland connections. Thanks to far-reaching digitalisation in processing and tracking, SMEs can also participate with small volumes. Together with Midpoint Brabant Smart Logistics, the LCB is also looking into whether specific technologies can play a role in Central Brabant, such as Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Serious Gaming.
The DALI project (Data Science for Logistics Innovation) is a practical example of a joint development in ‘smart logistics’. According to the initiators, this living lab focuses on cost and efficiency benefits, risk limitation, increased turnover and optimal deployment of people and resources. In the words of the initiators: “DALI is a step towards an open innovative community for knowledge-intensive logistics: inventing, developing, demonstrating and applying new logistics practices.”
There are also many other partnerships that aim to further increase the logistics power of Brabant's regions. During the past year and a half, MCA Brabant and the Logistics Community Brabant have successfully worked together on developing multimodal transport routes. MCA Brabant's primary objective is to shift as much freight as possible in Brabant from road to water and rail.
Pipeline transport is without a doubt the least known and most invisible logistics modality. Approximately 300,000 kilometres of piping are buried in Dutch soil. Central government sees the transport of hazardous substances via pipes in the ground as a safer alternative than transport by rail or road. The National Policy Strategy for Pipelines states how and where the government aims to keep space available for pipelines in the period up to 2035. These are pipelines that have been designed to transport dangerous substances over long distances, and pipelines for cross-border transport.
Pipelines of this type already run through West Brabant, connecting the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp. They are located in a protected tunnel, a so-called pipeline highway. Pipes for transporting hazardous substances have also been installed in South-East Brabant. Neighbouring countries have not been as fast to adopt this development. So Brabant is urging the European Commission to include pipeline transport in European transport policy.
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