The Rotterdam port authority has suspended its plan for autonomous transport on the Container Exchange Route (CER) currently under construction
Moving containers between all Maasvlakte I and Maasvlakte II deepsea terminals and distriparks will be with manned traction, the port authority (HbR) has confirmed to WorldCargo News.
The tender for autonomous transport was launched on June 5, 2020, but the search to outsource the inter-terminal transport over the 17-kilometre CER on the basis of "Transport as a service" has remained fruitless. The market was expected to develop a novel future-proof autonomous tractor unit and to operate the CER as well, thus relieving HbR of the ownership burden and responsibilities.
“As yet there are too many risks and uncertainties,”a HbR spokesman told WorldCargo News. “As we have stated from the outset, the tendering phase was meant to assess whether the innovation that we envisage is feasible from the operational start of the CER.
"When things don’t go as wished, it’s wiser to put things on standby and to avoid irresponsible risks. This wouldn’t serve anybody, not us, nor the client or the manufacturer of the autonomous vehicles. We faced the dilemma either to wait for the right future-proof automation to come on the market, and consequently leave the CER unused for at least a few years, or to start with manned tractors.”
It is understood that HbR plans to limit the transport fee to €20/TEU, irrespective of the haul’s length between any two Maasvlakte facilities. The actual return on the contract for basically a one-off project may have deterred the market. Some seasoned port sources have suggested that the port will consequently have to subsidise most trips if that is indeed the fee level.
With the manned variant now selected, the CER might still come on stream by the end of this year, as conventional tractors will not be too hard to commission, and drivers are available. Around 70 vehicles are anticipated to operate the CER when at full swing. The Dutch transport unions FNV and CNV have always strongly opposed the automation plan and had elderly dockers earmarked for the less strenuous driver’s work.
HbR is about to commence talks with all parties. Speaking for the unions, FNV Havens’ national secretary Niek Stam said: "We’ll drive the CER and we’ll keep on doing that, and under the dockers’ collective labour agreement, too. Anything else we will kick off the track.”
*This article has been corrected to reflect that the Port of Rotterdam has suspended the start of autonomous transport on the CER, but still intends to operate the system autonomously in the future.