Altenwerder setting the future pattern with state-of-the-art container terminal



Christian Lorenz, HHLA GmbH, Hamburg, Germany


“When you go new ways, you find new ways”. This proverb might have been coined especially for HHLA’s Container Terminal Altenwerder (CTA). A novel terminal layout and a host o specially developed operational procedures have made container handling safer and more efficient. Apart from its compact layout with clearly defined demarcations and only short distances to be covered, Altenwerder’s chief characteristic is its high degree of automation. A complex IT system under continuous further development handles the control of the various elements ranging from the container gantries to storage management. Optimised interaction is the basis for the terminal’s supreme efficiency.

With a length of 1,400 metres, Ballinkai in Altenwerder offers berths for up to four large containerships of the super-postpanmax class and one feedership at the same time. These can be handled by 13 ship-shore double-trolley container gantries, with one feeder crane in addition. With their booms tilted up in rest position, the enormous container gantries reach a height of altogether about 110 metres. The jibs extend 61 metres out over the water and can service up to 22 adjacent rows of containers. These will therefore even be capable of handling the next generation of mega vessels currently still being designed.

Container handling

Container handling is divided into two stages: At the waterside, special double-trolley gantry cranes load and discharge containers to/from the ship. The main trolley of the container gantry is controlled by a driver who with a sensitive touch offsets the unavoidable motions of the ship. Computers are not in a position to do this, nor do they achieve the same productivity rates as experienced crane drivers. Nor can responsibility for safety at this interface between the ship and the terminal be surrendered to a computer.

The container is deposited on a work platfor m higher up, where lashers remove or fit twistlocks. In addition, the identification of the boxes is checked once more there. The second trolley known as a ‘portal trolley’ then automatically takes over the container, placing it on an Automated Guided Vehicle (AGV). More than 70 of these vehicles transport boxes to/from the gantry cranes and the container storage blocks. They find their way independently and without any human instructions.

The AGVs search for the fastest route with the aid of more than 10,000 transponders set into the ground. Their signals are transmitted by software specially developed for the purpose, which allows for other vehicle movements before calculating and then controlling the shortest way to the destination. This complex software also helps to combine and optimise rail and road traffic with container handling throughout the terminal. The system uses data radio to control the various cranes and tractors. Shorter routes, fewer empty runs and handling of all transport contracts by their deadlines are the result. Optimal utilisation of all resources saves costs and improves the quality and productivity of the entire terminal logistics.

The container storage area consists of 23 storage blocks that are each handled by two rail-mounted gantry cranes (RMGs). These storage block cranes differ in height and can therefore work in parallel with one another. Containers can still be delivered even if one crane is down. Boxes are stored according to software instructions, and slots optimised at slack periods to ensure the fastest possible despatch. Boxes are released on the land side by staff in the control centre, using joysticks and cameras to lower containers on to trucks or trailers. 200 of the terminal’s own trailers and 12 tractors provide transport between the storage blocks and rail terminal.

Intermodal links

The western side of the terminal site is not only linked with the A7 motorway at Waltershof but also has its own container rail terminal to handle combined traffic. Kombi-Transeuropa Terminal Hamburg (KTH) is linked with the European rail network and consists of six parallel tracks along which block trains with a length of 700 m can be handled by three gantry cranes with swivel trolleys. Directly adjacent to the CTA, a goods traffic centre is being built and developed that will facilitate even more intensive intermeshing of logistics processes and box-related services.


Currently 530 highly qualified staff are employed directly at the terminal and its subsidiaries, with an additional 100 due be added. Many services on and around ships, furthermore, are performed by outside firms such as line runners, lashers, stevedores, etc. HHLA and its strategic partner Hapag-Lloyd (CTA stake: 25.1 per cent) have so far ploughed altogether €380 million into CTA. Of this, €230 million was for container gantries, storage cranes and other technology, and €100 million was for traffic and storage areas. In addition, the City of Hamburg has contr ibuted €300 million for infrastructure. Three more storage blocks, one additional container gantry and novel diesel-electric powered AGVs are to be acquired shortly to further boost terminal performance. On, into the future, HHLA will be offering its customers adequate capacities and fast, reliable service.

When HHLA’s plans to build a very largely automated container terminal in Altenwerder became known at the end of the 1990s, there was a great deal of scepticism. CTA has meanwhile actually more than lived up to the expectations of its planners. A large number of optimisations of specific interfaces has caused CTA’s capacity and productivity to run well ahead of plan (see also the interview with the management below). By handling 1.8 million TEU in 2005, the terminal played a large part in enabling Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG’s terminals to handle fast-growing container volumes. Altogether, in 2005 HHLA’s three terminals in Hamburg handled a record 5.3 million TEU – or more than New York/New Jersey as the largest port on the US east coast.

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