Rail Freight Group awards DB Cargo UK the Customer Care Award for MINI freight service

DB Cargo won the award for its work with Associated British Ports (ABP) to create a new service running into Southampton’s Western Docks for their customer MINI. DB Cargo UK and ABP overcame many significant issues, some of which were brought about by the Covid-19 Pandemic and the international supply chain disruption during the Brexit transition, creating ingenious solutions to rail freight for their largest client MINI. January 2021 saw a train filled with MINI’s complete a successful run into Southampton’s Western Docks thanks to months of planning and preparation by the team who undertook the work on behalf of all involved in the project.

The successful run was the first time in approximately seven years that cars had been transported into the Western Docks. The new service has since grown into five services each week, bringing economic and environmental benefits for MINI and also delivering the capability for ABP’s Western Docks to add capacity as well as the potential to take on new opportunities.  January 2020 saw DB Cargo UK and ABP discover that changes in customer demand and also in international shipping services meant that MINI intended to increase volume to Southampton’s Eastern Docks via its Oxford plant.

To find a solution for the changes, DB Cargo UK and ABP looked for differing solutions to MINI’s logistical challenge. At that time, DB Cargo UK was already running 5 to 6 round trips for MINI each week into Southampton’s Eastern Docks. However, MINI wanted the train to operate from the Western Docks, as the location of the ships was closer.

This idea lead to looking into the workability and also bringing back an automotive rail head at the Western Docks port.

Credit:: DB Cargo

The idea turned out to be more cost effective for MINI as there was less need for them to transport the vehicles by road impacting significantly on the extra costs of moving the vehicles from the Eastern Dock to the Western Dock. The ABP ANSA sidings at the Western Docks were found to be a perfect location but there were issues with the site such as they were only used for stabling locomotives, had less than adequate lighting and the power supply was not suitable to meet the needs of the special automotive WIA wagons. Covid-19 restrictions also came into play in the UK around this time, placing the country into lockdown which brought brand new issues for the project as firm social distancing measures were introduced on site and meetings were now taking place online.

ABP’s team scrutinised the site making necessary upgrades to the former ABP ANSA siding, these included installing temporary power generators, better lighting and a brand new raised platform to provide safe loading and unloading of vehicles form the WIA wagons. Other parts of the project also got underway as DB Cargo UK’s Service Design and Planning Team worked with Network Rail to find new paths leading into the Western Docks, which during the time were especially congested due to intermodal traffic. Whilst all this complex work was taking place both ABP and DB Cargo UK worked hard to keep MINI up to date with what was happening and despite the issues the pandemic added such as social distancing at all time, everything moved forward smoothly due to excellent on-site management of activities achieved.

Any problems were positively handled and on September the 29th 2020 the first pilot service which was made up of just one WIA wagon running into the Western Docks with all cars being offloaded successfully. Following the success of the pilot ABP quickly installed a permanent and more sustainable power supply to replace the temporary generators. Eight fully loaded WIA wagons carrying MINI’s took place on January the 19th 2021 and was the first full service running from Oxford to Southampton’s Western Docks.

The train arrived on time and all of the vehicles were off loaded successfully with the empty train leaving on time with an overall turnaround time of only four hours! The major project created huge economic and environmental positives for client MINI through extremely challenging circumstances. By working hand in hand, ABP and DB Cargo UK successfully convinced MINI to stay with rail over road haulage and created a economically efficient solution with little disruption to MINI’s supply chain. 

The addition of the brand new automotive rail head at the Western Docks has not only been financially beneficial for MINI, it has also meant saving the company around 200 tonnes of carbon emissions each year. ABP invested GBP300,000 into the under used ANSA sidings site, giving new life to the docks and giving potential for new growth and opportunities for the local area. The investment has also reduced the potential damage from extra handling in the movement from one end of the port to another.

By moving the service from Eastern to Western Docks means that MINI’s customers will see their vehicles kept in pristine condition.

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