The port of Trieste is not so far from the border with Slovenia. As such, it has had a strategic position from the 18th century onward, when it was occupied from the Venetian Republic by the Austrian Empire. At first, it was not destined to become a gateway to central and northern Europe, a good third of the continent of Europe. This rise in strength of the fourteenth European port – the first port of Italy – shows a strong dynamism. The Republicca masterfully described in 2001 the political culture of this corner of Italy: « What is happening at the port of Maria Theresa of Austria? (…) Strange city of Trieste. It is on the margins of the economy and the national system, and when public affairs are at stake, [there are] plenty of industrialists (…) Trieste is another thing. Right and left mobilize the lords of the economy, mobilize the masters of small empires. » Since the fall of the Iron Curtain and the dramatic end of Yugoslavia, the newspaper observed a new climate of openness with Slovenia and Friuli’s cousins, a takeoff of tourism, the landing of private entrepreneurs, the rescue or the creation of two thousand workplaces for an income of one hundred billion lire per year. « Today, the small Trieste takes quotas, becomes an object of desire, starts to make children again, takes the first place in Italy as GDP growth per capita.” In a nutshell, a vast public / private movement that went back to a once-promised city of decline.
Trieste, a tax haven?
Not really. The free port of Trieste was created by the Austrian Emperor Charles VI in 1719. The Paris Peace Treaty of 1947 and the London Memorandum of 1954 maintained the legal and fiscal regime of the free port of Trieste, thus giving it a status extraterritorial. Since then, customers can benefit from special conditions for import, export, transit, customs procedures and tax treatment. Porto Franco or Port Libre has 5 « free ports » (Punto Franco Vecchio, Punto Franco Nuovo, Punto Franco Scalo Legnami, Punto Franco Oli Minerali and Punto Franco Industriali). In July 2017, a government decree regulated the port as a free zone coordinated by the port authority.
Trieste is at the intersection of the TEN-T Adriatic-Baltic and Mediterranean corridors. Thanks to its naturally deep sea floor (18 m), it can host ocean liners from the Far East, and it has railway links to all of Europe. As such, it is the natural European terminal for the Maritime Silk Road initiative, which include Turkey.
A profitable commercial policy
‘Our goal is to build the largest intermodal hub in Europe in Trieste’. These 2017 declarations are not those of the Port Authority, but of Sedat Gumusoglu, the CEO of UN Ro-Ro, a large Turkish maritime operator, which operates its ro-ro ships throughout the Mediterranean. (Photo). Yes, it’s a Turk who gives us a lesson in ecological intermodal transport. Gumusoglu points out that half of Turkish commercial traffic is destined for Europe and more particularly for Germany, Austria, France, Italy, Benelux and the United Kingdom. « When we build this intermodal hub, we will add new rail lines. Today, 50% of the traffic that we manage with our ships [Ed: to Europe] is by road and the remaining 50% by rail. With our services, our goal is to further reduce road trips by 50% and to make the rail to operate a greener, faster and more efficient transport « . So go to a 25% fork on the road – 75% on rail.
In April 2018, the Danish shipping group DFDS – another ro-ro giant in the North Sea – signed an agreement to acquire 98.8% of the shares of the Turkish shipping company UN Ro-Ro. The Turkish company operates five routes linking Turkey to Italy and France (Toulon). It now operates 12 ro-ro ships (120 meters long) and employs 500 people. UN Ro-Ro / DFDS is the first Turkish ship owner to build the motorways of the sea between Turkey and Trieste. The change of ownership does not jeopardize this network, far from it. UN Ro-Ro maintains close cooperation with rail operators, offers intermodal transport to and from EU ports and key markets. However, a good part of the cargo is destined for the ports of the Baltic, the same ones where is implanted …. DFDS.
The audacity of entrepreneurs
Other benefits of the free port include simplified transit for commercial vehicles directed abroad, and vehicle tax exemption for international vehicles. Hence the strong expansion of Ro-Ro traffic (Roll on – Roll off), the ferry system that embarks and unloads trucks. Freight forwarders – also Turkish – then largely benefited from Ro-Ro services, starting with logisticians Ekol and Mars. UN Ro-ro, now under DFDS banner, has been a major player in the development of the intermodal industry, even causing traffic shifts back to the Italian port to reach Turkey, rather than through Romania and Bulgaria.
Ekol Logistics has started operating its own Ro-Ro service on Trieste. This company – supported by the local partner Parisi – has strengthened its position by launching its Ro-Ro service via Alternative Transport Line and now has the largest number of semi-trailers on the Turkey-Europe line, carrying more than 50,000 units intermodal network. In 2012, another Turkish, Mars Lojistik, started a tri-weekly train between Trieste and Bettembourg in the Grand Duchy. ‘This new train allows MARS Logistics to develop its activities in Europe. By consolidating our freight flows on a shuttle train from Trieste to Bettembourg, we are increasing the efficiency of our distribution in Europe while reducing CO2 emissions.‘ Said Garip Sahillioglu, CEO of MARS Logistics.
The role of Europe
We must also look behind the scenes: it is Europe, so much criticized, which is at the base of this dynamism. The Mars train was co-financed by the European Marco Polo program. Thanks to various aids, both Ekol and Mars, and other freight forwarders, were able to rely on the Ro-Ro services linking Trieste to Turkey.
Many rail carriers
With its free port status and the various aids available, Trieste has a network of intermodal trains that any port could dream of. The big port remains a privileged door for Turkish traffic in Europe: the Ro-Ro segment continues to grow with 314,705 vehicles in 2017. The port director, Zeno D’Agostino, does not hesitate to affirm that the element that makes Trieste « unique on the Italian scene » is the presence of different players in the railway market. In addition to the FS group, major private Italian railway companies (CFI and Inrail) and some owners (Rail Cargo Carrier Italy, Rail Traction Company, CapTrain Italy), owned by major European operators (Rail Cargo Austria, DB Schenker, SNCF) , are also active. The fundamental role of Adriafer (100% owned by the Giulian AdSP) should not be underestimated. Since July 2017, this operator has obtained the certification enabling it to operate on the complete rail network and no longer solely as a port operator.
Among the major operators, Rail Cargo Austria holds a 28% share of the market. Back to the old empire of Austria? Not really, but the fact remains that the ÖBB freight subsidiary, which is commercially aggressive, has just opened a permanent office in the Italian port.
The multiplication of operators – unlike the state monopoly – has resulted in large traffic and direct relationships. The extensive Trieste internal rail network (70 km of track) makes it possible to serve all quays by rail, with the possibility of assembling freight trains directly to various terminals and to be connected to the national and international network. 8,680 trains used the port in 2017. In the first quarter of 2018, the port was already handling 4,816 freight trains, an increase of 18% compared to the same quarter of last year. The port authority estimates that 10,000 trains will be registered for 2018, almost twice as many as in 2016 (5,600 trains).
Toward the North, it is the private company Ekol which « created » a direct traffic, thanks to its trains Trieste-Kiel (DE) to join Scandinavia, and the Trieste-Zeebrugge (BE) for the road to the Britain. Ekol Logistics significantly increased its rail freight capacity at the port of Trieste in 2016 after acquiring 65% of Europa Multipurpose Terminals. Ekol, which currently provides services to Turkish and Greek destinations, expects to add countries such as Israel and Egypt to its portfolio in the coming years.
Hungary is becoming Trieste’s first reference market, as for its Port’s railway container traffic. The link with Budapest was established in 2015 and it originally included two round-trips per week, leaving Trieste Marine Terminal in the early afternoon to reach Budapest-Mahart at 10 a.m. the following day. Since then, it has rapidly enjoyed a boom quickly leading to four – now seven – pairs of trains per week. The German operator Kombiverkehr has transferred its trains to Trieste, in correspondence with Munich, Ludwigshafen, Cologne, Duisburg, Hamburg and Leipzig. Today, Kombiverkehr probably manages the most trains coming from Trieste. Rail Cargo Austria has also developed its « Julia » network to five Austrian destinations and is successfully cooperating in Italy with companies such as Alpe Adria SpA, TO Delta and UN Ro-Ro.
The other advantage is that Trieste has access over 500 km to a large consumption area favoring mass consumption: Milan, Verona, Bologna, Munich / Salzburg, Vienna, Graz, Budapest, Ljubljana, all this very active Europe is at a stone’s throw from the Italian port.
The key maritime player of containers traffic today is the giant MSC, world second. If the main hub of the Geneva-based company is Antwerp, the « Phoenix » route calls Trieste (as well as neighboring Koper), to reach distant destinations in Asia, such as Tanjung Pelapas (Malaysia), Vung Tau (Viet-Nam) as well as Shekou, Yantian or Shanghai (China). The container flow is impressive and also uses the train. For example, a shuttle train « MSC Graz-Trieste Runner », operated in partnership with Cargo Center Graz (Rail Cargo Austria, ÖBB subsidiary), provides weekly service to Werndorf, Austria, which demonstrates that combined transport is possible on short distances.
The program has been precisely coordinated with MSC’s Phoenix long-haul line service to ensure optimal timing for intercontinental freight delivery, as well as other ocean freight services making direct calls to Trieste. MSC is working with one of its key customers, Lidl, a key partner in the region, to design a tailor-made transport solution for containers from Asia to the logistics center in Lidl Austria near Graz.
All of the above shows the growth of traffic in 2017, as evidenced by some remarkable figures: the containers handled reached 616,156 TEU (+ 26.7%). If we add the traffic of semi-trailers and swap bodies, the total global traffic will have been 1.314 953 TEUs (+ 13.5%), of which 314.705 trucks (+ 3.99%) on the only Turkish sea route, while that trains accounted for an increase of + 13.8% compared to 2016. The total number of trains carrying only Turkish exports through Trieste exceeds 60 trains per week (approximately 1,800 semi-trailers and containers).
The port manager, Zeno D’Agostino, is very satisfied: ‘It is very positive in quantitative terms, but above all qualitative. Just look at the number of full containers on the total processed: 89%. (…) this is an exemplary data compared to the normal performance of a container terminal. In Trieste, not only are the flow of containers growing, but they are developing in a healthy way: they are goods passing here, not empty boxes.’
We can conclude with this approach of the port management, concerning growth, reported by the website Espo: ‘We believe that the performance of a port cannot be measured solely in terms of TEUs or tonnage. A modern port should also be evaluated in terms of its train handling and rail links. Furthermore, we believe that measuring performance should also take into account the port’s ability to create value for the local area. In two years, we hired over 220 people. For us, human resources – our port workers – come before numbers. These are our core values: not so much how many more TEUs we transport, but the jobs generated by the port in the local area.‘
Beautiful conclusion …