Taking the Ecology Line

SEAT now transports new cars from its Martorell plant by train to the port of Barcelona. This innovative project protects the environment and reduces the risk of traffic congestion. It has enabled the Spanish automaker to switch 25,000 truck loads per year to rail. The Catalan regional government sees this as a model initiative – and SEAT is already working on follow-up projects.
SEAT Ibiza (photo)

The Ibizas, Leons and Cordobas roll quickly over the large ramp to their parking spaces on the SEAT car transporter train, which is almost 400 meters long and has space for 170 vehicles. Two to three times a day, a diesel locomotive pulls the empty freight cars to the SEAT plant in Martorell. A few hours later, fully loaded and on schedule, it departs on its one-hour journey to the port of Barcelona, from where the brand-new SEAT models are shipped throughout the world.

Manuel Medina stands on the tracks and watches the cars being loaded. “I always enjoy coming here”, he says, “a lot of passion went into this.” Medina, who is responsible for distribution planning, is one of the hard core team that supported the train project from the beginning – despite a lot of the skepticism: “When we presented our plan to the port authority, we had to do a lot of convincing.”

The people in charge have since changed their position. And SEAT has even won the “Outstanding Loader 2008” award for the initiative, which entails switching new car transportation from the Martorell plant to the port of Barcelona from road to rail. This is the second award that SEAT’s new car transporter train has won: in 2007 the project – which was still under construction – was named the “Best Logistics Initiative” of the year at the International Logistics & Material Handling Exhibition (SIL) in Barcelona. Both prizes were accepted by SEAT’s logistics director, Juan Ramón Rodríguez. “We were pioneers in this area”, says Rodríguez, “because we believe in the potential of rail as an economically viable means of transport”. He produces a map of Barcelona and the surrounding area, highlighting the central access roads and their capacity limits. Almost all of them are at well over 100 percent. “Five years ago”, explains Rodríguez, “it sometimes took our trucks eight hours to travel the 70 kilometers from the plant to the port and back. Instead of the three return trips we do today, we could often only manage one.”

“We forecast to the government that we would remove more than 25,000 truck loads from the road each year.” Juan Ramón Rodríguez González, Logistics Director at SEAT (quotation)
Juan Ramón Rodríguez González, Logistics Director at SEAT (photo)

There had always been a rail track built by Catalan railway company FGC in the immediate vicinity of SEAT’s production facility. However, the train link did not come about for many years because there was no access route to the plant and the only FGC track at the port had to be prepared for SEAT. In addition, new car transporter trains were required for the Catalan rail gauge. But that wasn’t the only drawback: “The general view was that a rail transportation route must be at least 400 kilometers to be profitable”, remembers Rodríguez. “Our route is only a good 35 kilometers.” It was therefore clear to the logistics specialists at SEAT from the outset that they would need the support of the Generalitat de Catalunya, the Catalan regional government.

After the government had given the initiative the green light, the railway company and the port authority followed suit. Finally, all parties came to an understanding and signed an investment agreement in June 2005. The port authority bore the cost of renewing the track on its land, and SEAT made all the necessary preparations for the rail link on its site. The link itself was funded by the Generalitat, while FGC purchased the freight cars. SEAT’s partners invested a total of €6.8 million in the project. The ground-breaking ceremony took place on January 10, 2007, and only eleven months later, on December 15, the first test train set off from Martorell to the port.

800 t CO2 reduction (graphics)
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