The port of Trieste is not so far from the border with Slovenia. As such, it has occupied a strategic position since the 18th century, when it was occupied by the Austrian Empire. It was never intended to become a gateway to Central and Northern Europe, which is a good third of the European continent. This rise of the fourteenth European port – Italy’s first port – shows a strong dynamism. In 2001, the Republicca masterfully described the political culture of this area of Italy: « What’s going on in the port of Maria Theresa of Austria? (…) Strange city of Trieste. It is on the fringe of the economy and the national system, and when public affairs are at stake, [there are] lots of industrialists (…) Trieste is something else. Right and left mobilise the lords of the economy, mobilise 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 take-off of tourism, the landing of private entrepreneurs, the rescue or creation of two thousand workplaces for an income of one hundred billion (lire) a year. « Today, little Trieste is taking up markets again, becoming an object of desire, starting to have children again, taking first place in Italy in terms of GDP per capita growth. ” In a word, a vast public/private movement that has brought back a city once promised to 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, giving it a special extraterritorial status. Since then, clients have been able to benefit from special conditions for import, export, transit, customs procedures and tax treatment. The Porto Franco or Free Port 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 regularised the port as a free zone coordinated by the port authority.
Trieste is located at the intersection of the TEN-T Adriatic-Baltic and Mediterranean corridors. Thanks to its naturally deep seabed (18 m), it can accommodate liners from the Far East and has rail connections to all of Europe. As such, Trieste becomes the natural European terminal for the Chinese Silk Road Initiative, which also includes Turkey.
A profitable commercial policy
« Our aim is to build Europe’s largest intermodal hub in Trieste « . These 2017 statements are not those of the Port Authority, but of Sedat Gumusoglu, the CEO of UN Ro-Ro, a major Turkish maritime operator, which operates its ro-ro ships all over the Mediterranean (photo). Yes, it is a Turkish man who gives us a masterful lesson in ecological intermodal transport. Gumusoglu points out that half of Turkey’s commercial traffic is destined for Europe and more specifically for Germany, Austria, France, Italy, Benelux and the United Kingdom. « When we build this intermodal hub, we will add new railway lines. Today, 50% of the traffic we handle with our ships [Editor’s note: to Europe] is by road and the remaining 50% by rail. With our services, our aim is to reduce road journeys by a further 50% and to use rail to operate more environmentally friendly, faster and more efficient transport« . So, to move towards a range of 25% road – 75% rail.
In April 2018, the Danish shipping group DFDS – another giant in the North Sea Ro-Ro sector – 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 currently operates 12 ro-ro ships (120 metres long) and employs 500 people. UN Ro-Ro/DFDS is the first Turkish shipowner to have built the motorways of the sea between Turkey and Trieste. The change of ownership does not endanger this network. UN Ro-Ro maintains close cooperation with rail operators and offers intermodal transport to and from ports and key markets in the EU. However, much of the cargo is destined for the Baltic ports, the very ports where UN Ro-Ro is based…. DFDS. The circle has been closed.
The audacity of entrepreneurs
Among the benefits of the free port are simplified transit for commercial vehicles headed abroad and tax exemption for international vehicles. That explains the strong expansion of Ro-Ro (Roll on – Roll off) traffic, which is a ferry system that embarks and disembarks lorries. Freight forwarders – also Turkish – then took full advantage of Ro-Ro services, starting with Ekol and Mars. UN Ro-Ro, now under the DFDS banner, has been a major player in the development of the intermodal industry, even causing traffic to be shifted to the Italian port to reach Turkey, rather than through Romania and Bulgaria, less secure.
Ekol Logistics had started to operate its own ro-ro service on Trieste. This company – supported by local partner Parisi – strengthened its position by launching its Ro-Ro service via the Alternative Transport Line and today has the largest number of semi-trailers on the Turkey-Europe line, transporting more than 50,000 units on its intermodal network. In 2012, another Turkish company, Mars Lojistik, started a three-weekly train service between Trieste and Bettembourg, in the Grand Duchy. « This new train allows MARS Logistics to develop its activities in Europe. By consolidating our goods flows in 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 at the other side of the coin: it is Europe, so much decried by certain Cassandras, which is at the root of this dynamism. The Mars train was indeed co-financed by the European Marco-Polo programme. Thanks to various aids, both Ekol and Mars, and other forwarding agents, were able to rely on the Ro-Ro services linking Trieste to Turkey.
Numerous rail carriers
With its status as a free port and the various aids available, Trieste has a network of intermodal trains that any port could dream of. The large port remains a privileged gateway for Turkish traffic in Europe: the Ro-Ro segment continues to grow with 314,705 vehicles in 2017. The port’s director, Zeno D’Agostino, does not hesitate to state that the element that makes Trieste « unique on the Italian scene » is the presence of various players in the railway market. In addition to the FS Group, important private Italian railway companies (CFI and Inrail) and some traction companies (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 either. « Since July 2017, this operator has obtained the certification allowing it to operate on the complete rail network and not only as a port operator. »
Among the major operators, Rail Cargo Austria has a 28% market share. Back to the old empire? 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, with connections to Munich, Ludwigshafen, Cologne, Duisburg, Hamburg and Leipzig. Today, Kombiverkehr probably runs the most trains from Trieste. Rail Cargo Austria has also expanded its « Julia » network to five Austrian destinations and cooperates successfully in Italy with companies such as Alpe Adria SpA, TO Delta and UN Ro-Ro.
The other advantage is that Trieste has 500 km of access to a major consumer area favouring mass consumption: Milan, Verona, Bologna, Munich/Salzburg, Vienna, Graz, Budapest, Ljubljana, all of this very active Europe is just a stone’s throw away 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 …