The last shipment of Hitachi high-speed passenger trains reached the Port of Southampton in the UK this week, bringing to a close a four-year project which saw 29 full trains imported from Hitachi’s plant in Kasado, Japan, for use by UK rail company Southeastern. Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics (WWL), acting as the lead logistics provider, arranged the movement of the trains by sea from Kasado and then by rail between Southampton and a depot in Ashford.
The project, for which contracts were signed in late 2004, required more than two years of planning before the first train reached Southampton in August 2007. Captain Mark Bookham, Operations Director for WWL UK, noted that the entire fleet has been delivered on schedule, to budget and without using any road transport.
The project was significant being the first use of Hitachi rolling stock in regular service in Europe – currently on a limited ‘preview’ service between Ashford and St Pancreas in London – while also being the first time Hitachi has used ro-ro vessels to move its trains. For WWL, which has seen a 50% drop-off in automotive cargo for the UK this year, such specialised, non-traditional traffic has helped to offset some of those losses. “Project-based cargo has not necessarily slowed down, certainly not as automotive has,” said UK Managing Director John Speakman.
The railcars, which left the factory without seats and certain systems, were moved first by short sea from Hitachi’s own quay in Kasado to the port of Kobe, from where they boarded the WWL vessels (in this case, the MV Tamesis). WWL designed specific rubber tyre bogies (RTB) for the 47-tonne railcars to sit atop, allowing the trains to be rolled on and off vessels, as opposed to lifted onto a mafi trailer, as would be most project-based cargo aboard ro-ro vessels. Once in Southampton, the trains were rolled off the ship and lifted off the RTBs using two 100-tonne mobile cranes, and placed onto the rail tracks at Southampton, where they are pulled “dead” on their own wheels by a DB Schenker locomotive to Ashford. Once there they are commissioned and finalised. 
According to Bookham, this ro-ro method is a more efficient and cheaper solution for Hitachi because, due to the weight of the trains, they would have needed a specialised project ship. He also said that WWL hopes to remarket the RTBs for other project cargo. “They are specific to the gauge of the Hitachi trains, but we can adjust them for other cargo,” he said.
The movement of the trains by rail in the UK also required specialised planning, according to Stuart Boner, MD, Network, DB Schenker. Initially, because of network restrictions, the trains would have had to move through the UK at just 15mph, which DB Schenker was able to avoid by moving the trains to Ashford at night. “We do a lot of project cargo for Network Rail, such as bridge beams and other infrastructure,” said Boner. “This was neither more or less complicated than those movements. But it required working together with partners to find the right solution for the customer.”
A walk inside the Tamesis, which started its journey in Japan and will make its way back there again via the US and the Panama canal, revealed what Speakman called the “tremendous diversity of cargo” that WWL carries, particularly important because especially with the drop in automotive. Besides the Hitachi trains, the ship unloaded rock crushers and a fully-sized model airplane for fire training purposes. Onboard were VWs loaded from Bremerhaven, while stevedores loaded it with US-bound Ford Connect Vans that arrived earlier from Turkey. There was also agricultural equipment, a pair of hearses and a shipment of 132-tonne Siemens trains bound for Australia.