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Trieste harbour : an example of intermodal transport

(version en français)

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.

Maritime consolidation
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.

Faraway lands
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.

Strong growth
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 …



ESPO – Le port de Trieste (2017, en anglais)

Rail origins and destinations to/from Trieste

Trieste, porto intermodale che fa della ferrovia un punto di forza

Trieste regge bene all’urto dell’ambizioso traffico intermodale turco


The Netherlands : the network reaches its limits. Towards a six-second schedule?

(version en français)

Do we have the capacity – and the money – to further increase the number of railways tracks and all the civil engineering that goes with it (noise barriers, bridges, underpasses)?  Are we get to a point where maybe we should say “stop the concrete” ? This is the big question from the Dutch infrastructure manager ProRail. Which offers solutions.

First, let’s look at the Dutch context, which is probably similar to that of other countries in Europe. The Dutch rail operator ProRail expects the number of train passengers to increase by 45% by 2030. ProRail also sees an increase in the number of freight trains. But he warns the increase is making it increasingly difficult to allocate track capacity among train operators on the Dutch network. In 2019 alone, more than 2.2 million trips are planned for passenger trains, covering nearly 165 million kilometers.

ProRail must also manage factors that are difficult to predict. The growth in the number of travelers is faster than expected. This growth follows the urbanization and growth of the economy, so that more people work and use public transport. Roger van Boxtel, CEO of the national enterprise NS, said that the limits of the railway system had almost been reached. ‘Every year, more and more people are choosing the train, which makes us happy, while increasing the risk of crowds and delays,’ Van Boxtel explains.

More people on the dutch trains (photo press NS)

We note that we are slowly going to reach the limits of the network,’ says Wouter van Dijk, transportation and scheduling manager at ProRail. ‘More and more trains are on the tracks. The incumbant NS have also ordered new trains, we are now looking into where we can put them and things are going to start getting complicated, but I think we can do it properly until 2025-2030. But beyond that date, now there is a need to start developing other solutions.

There are now over 7,300 kilometers of track in the Netherlands. According to ProRail, additional tracks make few sense and it is also difficult to build new ones, as there is little land available. With the expansion of the traffic, the number of trains in circulation is increasing, which requires more facilities for cleaning and U-turns. Prorail is already considering short-term measures. Prorail has pointed out that there are insufficient stabling facilities, with quick measures needed to create more capacity. As an incentive, Prorail will start to consider “parking as a service” offered to train operators. This change will enable Prorail to oversee and control the available capacity better and optimise capacity allocation.

Stabling facilities. Here at Utrecht (photo press Prorail)

Towards a six-second schedule?

According to ProRail, some innovations can somewhat ease the pressure on the rail network. For example, the schedule will be programmed more accurately from 2020: more per minute, but by 6 seconds. This concerns the internal planning of the railway manager and carriers. Nothing changes for travelers, they continue to see schedules per minute.

Improvements are also possible through the Time Table Redesign (TTR) tool, which allows more efficient train reprogramming. This is particularly useful for the transportation of goods, as these trains are more unpredictable. 96% of freight trains change time slots and must be repositioned! But the message is also launched on the side of the carriers. ‘Carriers must also become more inventive’ says Van Dijk. ‘It’s also possible to create more capacity by running the trains differently.’ He also thinks of different types of trains, for example more metropolitan. ‘It’s lighter, so the stopping distance is shorter. On the track along the A2, between Amsterdam and Eindhoven, there are six intercity trains per hour’ says Van Dijk. ‘There must be four sprinters and one freight train per hour in between, so you can imagine how tight it will be.

A problem : mix between passengers and freight traffic (photo presse Prorail)

Carriers also have their opinion on better use of the capacity of the Dutch rail network. According to Hans-Willem Vroon, director of the association Railgood : ‘We see that the public transport sector is putting pressure on the government to invest more in the railways, there is a lot of lobbying, but we should not exaggerate it. There is still a lot of transport efficiency to achieve.’ The proposed solutions do not have to be technological. Thus, according to Mr. Vroon, it would be appropriate for the toll for the use of the tracks to be clearly and deliberately distinct between peak and off-peak hours. ‘In the case of heavy occupancy, carriers will pay 150 per cent of the tariff per train kilometer, 100 per cent in normal traffic and 50 per cent in off-peak hours.Tariff differentiation can ensure better utilization of the track.

Then, other measures such as the extension of the trains to 740m are envisaged. But according to Vroon, Germany must follow the same rhythm, in which case it would make no sense. ‘With this, 8 to 12 containers can be added on each train. This equates to 4 to 8 trucks that will not encumber our roads. For shippers, this significantly reduces transportation costs per tonne or per container’. ProRail has made DB Cargo run tests with this length, but according Vroon, it’s not fast enough. ‘In Venlo (border station with Germany), there are too few tracks available for a length of 740 meters, sometimes even for lengths of 640 meters. It’s fantastic that tests and study are done, but when does it become concrete?

Rotterdam, one of the containers terminal (photo NL)

The media apparition of Prorail at the end of August can be interpreted as a signal coming from the political power : more trains with less money. We must find a panoply of solutions to absorb the expected growth, without covering the country with concrete. It also shows that if the railway is a key element of sustainable development, it will not happen with a too much level of public expenditure. Prorail, like the national incumbant NS, are dependent on government policies, as everywhere in Europe. Large projects such as the implementation of ERTMS or the transition from 1500V DC to 3kV DC are time consuming.

So, to relieve the occupation of trains at peak times, it is even the association of Rover travelers who proposes a curious solution: ‘Between Rotterdam and The Hague (30km), is it necessary to take an Intercity?’ told Tim Boric. According to him: ‘Other means of transport such as the metro, the bus, the tram and the Randstad Rail can absorb some of the traffic in the densely populated parts of the Randstad. The necessary growth of public transport should not concern only ProRail and NS, but also the means of transport of metropolitan areas and provinces.

The future of rail in the Netherlands will be through a mix of diversified solutions, combining technology and especially new operating measures.


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