Near to the small Belgian towns Geel and Westerlo on the Albert Channel one of the first dedicated special terminals in Europe for the handling of heavy lift and project cargoes enters operation. Situated favourably at the intersection of the E 313 highway and No. 71 regional road at only about 35 km distance from the port of Antwerp and directly connected with all Western and Central European inland waterways, the terminal with rail access officially will be inaugurated early February 2002. Nevertheless, the Adams transport group, headquartered in St. Viet in Belgium disposed the first heavy lift and large-sized shipments through the terminal.

The new special inland harbour facility located within the highly-densed Belgian industrial region of Geel-Westerlo had been initiated by the Flemish Government subsiding the heavy lift facility with a single payment of bfrs 88mn. Background for this realisation have been problems of the Belgian plant manufacturer Coek, based at Geel in delivery and transport of columns of 550 tons each at a length of 73 m of wich at least two will have to be supplied annually over the next few years. Delivery of these giant columns without barge transport within Western Europe on main transport routes would be impossible, the manufacturer argues. In view of this supply situation, the flemish government enforcing heavy transport to shift from roads to waterways and the EU Commission at Brussels supported the realisation of the terminal.

Arrival of the company-owned pontoon ”RoRo 1” loaded with four heavy components at the conseignee’s own facilities at Stein on the Dutch Juliana Channel

On November 9, 2001 the Adams transport group handled its first shipment through the brand-new facility to overseas: a 216 tons reactor vessel of the AR-220 type of 13,950 mm length by 8,950 x 8,320 mm. The heavy piece was shipped from the premises of plant manufacturer Coek at Geel by a 14-axle low-roader to the heavy lift terminal on the Albert Channel and handled by two 500 tons telescopic mobile cranes onto the ro-ro vessel ”DB 47“ for transport to the port of Antwerp alongside sea vessel taking over sea transportation to the port of Zhuhai in the Peal River delta of the Southern Chinese province of Guangdong.

With its second shipment via the new terminal, the Adams transport group impressively proved the efficiency of heavy transportation on inland waterways with the terminal as intersection of the intermodal transport chain between the supplier's works at Geel and the Geleen works of the Dutch chemical company DSM. The Adams group took over a reactor vessel of 185 tons measuring 22,925 x 4,031 x 4,425 mm in addition to two domes each of 35,5 tons measuring 7,775 x 4,705 x 4,691 mm within the Coek works by low-loaders. After haulage to the heavy lift terminal all three components rolled onto the company-owned heavy transport pontoon „RoRo 1“.

At the first station en route to the Netherlands, at Belgian port of Genk on the Albert Channel, ”RoRo 1“ took over a fourth component by rolling on deck, a reactor vessel of 109,7 tons of 16,985 x 3,709 x 4,265 mm. The ponton then continued its journey to the inland harbour of Stein. At the ro-ro facility of Stein all four components were lifted up by means of the on-board hydraulic systems of the low-loaders rolling off the pontoon directly into the nearby chemical works of the conseignee DSM at Geleen.

Ro-ro ramp with adjoining heavy lift quay of the project cargo
terminal Geel-Westerlo, located at the Belgian Albert Channel

THLG member John Wetzels escorted the entire transport and handling operation, commenting on specific problems arising from the size of the pontoon and the transport height of the reactor vessels and the domes: ”Due to the width and length of the pontoon of 15 m and 65 m, accordingly, parts of the waterways over the weekends had to be closed off by the police as the pontoon nearby Genk had to be positioned transverse to the Albert Channel for roll-on loading of the fourth reactor and also for passing narrow curves of the Juliana Kanaal to avoid disturbances of oncoming traffic. Despite these hindrances we have been able to carry out the entire transportation within the limits of the time window between 22nd and 26th of November.“ But also the final leg of the transport on roads from the Stein terminal into the works at final destination, several hamperings raising from the transport weight of about 300 tons and 47 m length of the heavy units and maximum cross sections of 4.10m width and 5.40 m transport height had to be overcome. John Wetzels: ”Despite such handicaps including a tyre blowout we could keep he time schedule exactly 20 minutes before the given termination.“

Handling of a 216 ts reactor vessel by means of two 500 tons telescopic mobile cranes on the new heavy lift and project cargo terminal at Geel-Westerlo

Equipped with a ro-ro ramp of 16 m width for every heavy loads and an adjoining heavy lift quay for lift-on/lift-off handling of heavy and outsized pieces by mobile cranes, the special terminals will be operated by the private Belgian RoRo Trans N.V. based at Westerlo. Rail access of the facility designed for axle loads up to 32 tons presently is being extended by some 300 m on the terminal alongside quay wall and into a hall for storage and handling of heavy components, planned to be built shortly. At present, a quay wall of 112 m length is available which medium range will be expanded by 85 m. For lift-on/lift-off operation of mobile cranes with 650 tons workload in their most heavy supporting position.

The Belgian Albert Kanaal is regarded a highly frequented inland waterway crossing one of Europe's highest industrialized areas in the near hinterland of the second-largest harbour of the continent, Antwerp. Via Antwerp heavy pontoons of waterway class VI and coastal vessels can easily reach the new heavy lift terminal at Westerlo. In addition, via Albert Kanaal, at Maastricht connecting to the Meuse and the Dutch channel Juliana Kanaal there is access to the Northern France industrial region and to the entire Rhine waternetwork extending through Europe to the Black Sea. These geographical advantages are enabling the new terminal facility to exploit a greatest possible potential of intermodal heavy lift transportation involving coastal and inland shipping, road and railway carriage. The operation of this terminal ahead of these advantages will be supported by a service centre which presently is being developed, directly attaching the heavy lift terminal. In its extended area of about 2.5 to 3 hectares a special company manufacturing transport packaging for heavy and abnormal loads will be settled in addition to another enterprise specialised in assemling and re-assembling, storage and other engineering activities, both meeting specialized service demands of heavy lift shippers and plant exporters in modern supply logistic chains. All companies to be settled within the service centre already in the past closely cooperated in project management of RoRo Trans N.V. on request of this magazine.