Night Train.
Transport Magazine

Night Train.

On the road at night: a look at the challenges facing the transport professionals at Schick Group.

The Arocs trucks used by Schick Group transport steel-reinforced concrete elements for the new terminal building at Frankfurt airport. These colossal pieces weigh as much as 44 tonnes, but that’s not the problem.

The new Terminal 3 building to the east of Frankfurt airport is growing bit-by-bit. The intention is for as many as 25 million passengers to be processed here annually. And one of the companies on-board for this project is the Schick Group of companies from Bad Kissingen, Germany. They are responsible for construction of gates H and J, as well as the roughly 70-metre-tall air traffic control tower. It’s no small feat: gate J, for example, measures in at a length of 600 metres and comprises three levels.

“We’re using around 70 vehicles above 7.5 tonnes,” says fleet manager and logistics specialist Stefan Eichholz. “These are mainly concrete mixers, tippers and tractor units.” For the new-build at Frankfurt’s Terminal 3, his team is currently involved with the transport of 86 Y‑shaped pillars in steel-reinforced concrete. Each individual pillar weighs between 22 and 44 tonnes, which is why Schick’s drivers are only permitted to drive during the night.

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Stefan Eichholz, Fleet Manager and Logistics Specialist at Schick Group.

And today is no different: it’s 40 minutes past midnight on the “Schwarze Pfütze” parking area near to the slip road of the A71 motorway. The Schick crew get out of their vehicles to tighten the heavy chains the secure the load. It is March and last week saw the first warm days of the year. But despite that, it’s bitterly cold again today.

Up to now, everything went smoothly, but there are still 210 kilometres separating the team from the airport. The otherwise pitch-black section of road is now being lit up in a gentle shade of orange by the lights of the vehicles. The police vehicle which has escorted the convoy along the main roads up to this point is now heading back to base in the opposite direction.

“We managed to get away on time which is already a really good thing,” says driver Walter Kleinhenz. He’s already familiar with the route. But today, the conditions are tougher than usual: his Arocs is transporting a 37.5‑tonne Y‑shaped element. “The Arocs just pulls it along. The real challenge is its width of 5.40 metres. It means things sometimes get a bit tight,” says Walter Kleinhenz.

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Driver Walter Kleinhenz drives the route to Frankfurt several times a week.

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Driver Walter Kleinhenz drives the route to Frankfurt several times a week.

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“Our tractor units are often used for heavy haulage operations. With the Arocs, we have found an economical solution,” says Stefan Eichholz who took over as fleet manager in 2015.

The convoy is back on the road. Walter Kleinhenz looks at the MirrorCam display on the A-pillar. “The system is a great help for us. When I turn off a road with the trailer, the image moves. That way I always have everything up to the back end of the trailer in view.”

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In order to transport the steel-reinforced concrete giants, one of Schick Group’s teams loads the Y-shaped pillars onto the four-axle semitrailer in the afternoon using a portal crane. Once the two Actros trucks are loaded, they are made ready for action in front of the plant. At around 4 o’clock in the morning, the team have already reached the airport where the builders start to unload. After this is complete, the vehicles head back to Bad Kissingen and start the whole procedure again.

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Schick Group delivers Y‑shaped pillars made of steel-reinforced concrete for the new Terminal 3 building at Frankfurt airport.

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“When I turn off a road with the trailer, the image moves. That way I always have everything up to the back end of the trailer in view.”

Walter Kleinhenz, driver at Schick Group
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The route: each of the Y-shaped pillars is transported via the A7, A3 and A5 motorways from Bad Kissingen to the construction site at Frankfurt airport.

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At 11:00 p.m., the drivers meet up and carry out load securing and pre-departure checks. Once the police arrive at midnight, the team can get on the road.

“Despite that, you don’t really get into a routine as such,” says Stefan Eichholz. “The project is a challenge for us all. But it’s also very interesting.” And the challenges can be pretty tough at times: the weekly driving times of the drivers, poor weather or roadworks that pop up out of nowhere along the route and render it almost impossible to transport the wide load. “In such cases, you need people who are able to react flexibly. I’d employ a good driver straight away.” Eichholz needs employees who he can rely on. It’s been a couple of months now that his dad has also been working in heavy haulage at Schick Group – and he’s even driving one of the assistance vehicles tonight.

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Walter Kleinhenz is a driver at Schick Group.

In front of the convoy, a long climb is approaching. The tail lamps of the assistance vehicle in front start becoming more distant. The 66.5-tonne gross combination weight can now be felt. Driver Walter Kleinhenz presses his right foot carefully down on the accelerator pedal. The 390 kW of the tractor unit bring the Arocs back into position with ease. And the second Arocs in the convoy also starts closing in.

Meanwhile, the convoy has left the A3 motorway and turned onto the A5 in the direction of Basel. In front of the teams is the most difficult bit of the journey. Plus, with today’s transport task involving one of the most heavy of the Y-shaped pillars being used in the construction, the presence of roadworks along the route make things really tight. Walter Kleinhenz hooks his radio back into its retainer. The Arocs slows down and swings into the single lane of traffic. Kleinhenz points to the MirrorCam displays. On the left and right, he has a mere 15 centimetre margin to the concrete walls that have been put up. Until he reaches the next junction, he needs to fully concentrate on the task at hand. The convoy tentatively progresses through the roadworks.

It’s now 3:50 in the morning. The vehicles reach the entrance of the building site.

At the airport, a bitterly cold wind is blowing. Everyone gets out of their vehicles to remove the load securing mechanisms and the lighting. Once that’s done, it’s time to unload. “Well, that’s how things went yesterday.” So do the team actually get into a sort of routine or not? Kleinhenz laughs. At walking pace, he steers his vehicle combination into the building site. “No, you can't really call it a routine.”

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Note: At the time the photos and videos were made, the prevailing hygiene rules for preventing the spread of the corona virus were observed.

Photos: Alexander Kraus
Video: Martin Schneider-Lau