Rail freight transport to and from ports is often unnecessarily inefficient and expensive. For example, about ninety percent of these trains are empty during the return journey. The organizations involved need to cooperate more, to pool their goods flows. Serious gaming is a tried and tested way of improving logistics processes. The Port Authority arranged for terminal staff, operators, manufacturers, shippers and carriers to take part in the Rail Cargo Challenge Amsterdam.
“We wanted port organizations to engage one another in discussion, in an innovative way”, says Rob Smit, Hinterland Manager at Port of Amsterdam. “When you are playing the game, a very different dynamic emerges than the one you find at meetings, for example. It was an exciting and extremely useful exercise.”
Serious game about cooperation
This was the second time a serious game about cooperation was used to tackle aspects of the port’s railway system. TNO had previously set up a variant of the game for the port of Rotterdam. Both variants are board games. They were developed by TNO, Delft University of Technology and The Barn, with input from organizations such as ProRail, Rijkswaterstaat, and the port authorities at Rotterdam and Amsterdam. The Challenge is part of the SYNCHRO-GAMING project, in which models and games are developed for rail freight transport and synchromodal transport.
“Our involvement in the game and the follow-up sessions inspired us to make greater efforts to find partners for combined transport. The players you find may be quite different from those you had initially envisaged”
“A serious game is a great tool for a sector consisting of many different parties who know little or nothing about one another”, says Layla Lebesque, one of TNO’s logistics experts. “That poor mutual understanding meant that clear opportunities for cooperation were not exploited. The game gives the participants novel insights, while unexpected interactions often develop between players who previously knew nothing about one another. You also get a very direct feel for the impact that certain decisions have on your company and on others in the port area. These are just three of the ingredients that help to promote and accelerate innovation in the sector.”
Return freight as a key focus area
“The game helps you bond with another organization much more quickly, and take action sooner”, explains André Kooloos from Rotim Bulk Terminal, which is responsible for innovative rail transport systems. “You also get to know each other much better than you do in the usual surroundings. Above all, you soon realize that the only way to get things done is to cooperate with one another. The game is totally transparent. The board clearly shows how the cards have been dealt. The next step is to consider your options and to discuss smart ways of combining individual elements.” Rotim sees the management of return freight as a key focus area. This terminal organization already endeavours to transport goods to customers by rail wherever possible, rather than by road or by water. In the vast majority of cases, however, there is no return freight. So, in addition to the fully laden outward journey, the company also pays for the empty return trip.
“For example, players were challenged to combine destinations, to cooperate on filling the remaining space on half-full trains, or to increase the frequency of services”
Keeping an open mind when doing business
“The game has resulted in very practical discussions with potential new partners”, Mr Kooloos adds. “Our involvement in the game and the follow-up sessions inspired us to make greater efforts to find partners for combined transport. The players you find may be quite different from those you had initially envisaged. Organizations that would not normally encounter on another are now able to do so. And the game teaches you to keep an open mind when doing business. It encourages you to be a little more open, instead of apprehensively playing all of your cards close to your chest. If you give a little, you will also get something back. People tend to be a bit jumpy about exchanging data, but you can achieve fruitful joint ventures while still keeping something in reserve.”
From half-full trains to full ones
One of the Port Authority’s major targets is to shift from transport by road to transport by rail. So the pooling of goods flows is being given top priority. “We have to relieve the pressure on the roads”, says Rob Smit. Many different cargo flows pass through the port area. More of these flows need to be pooled, both on the outward and return journeys – in line with Rotim’s aspirations – or by combining several flows to the same destination in a single train. Not only has the game brought many different parties together but, by playing it, they gained a better understanding of each other’s activities and interests. For example, the players were challenged to combine destinations, to cooperate on filling the remaining space on half-full trains, or to increase the frequency of services. The beauty of the game is that it also involves aspects like loyalty and image. If you just look beyond your own interests, you can achieve much better results. That, in turn, benefits the image of the port area as a whole.”
“In terms of tangible results, the game and the follow-up meetings have already led to the creation of new services, like the shuttle service to Antwerp that now runs three times a week”
New services generated by the game
Mr Smit is convinced that the organizations involved are now much clearer about their options for pooling goods flows by rail. He also believes they will explore these options more actively and creatively in future. In terms of tangible results, the game and the follow-up meetings have already led to the creation of new services, like the shuttle service to Antwerp that now runs three times a week. “The organizations involved are now much more inclined to approach one another. This serious game has laid the foundations for fruitful cooperation in the port area.”
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