‘Rail connection to European ports should be on top of the list’

The interdependency of European ports and rail freight connections has been one of the topics on board of the Connecting Europe Express. In Europe, a large share of rail freight passes through its seaports, yet the modal split of rail hinterland connections varies greatly. According to EU policymakers, there is a lot to gain in improving these connections.

Most European ports are located close to urban nodes with high pressure on the road network, which makes the increased use of rail freight a necessary choice. And vice versa, for rail freight operations, a significant share of the cargo transported on the tracks, particularly in high growth markets such as intermodal traffic, passes through the port.

On the occasion of the Connecting Europe Express’ arrival in Rotterdam and Antwerp this week, the European Sea Ports Organisation (ESPO), the European Rail Infrastructure Manager (EIM), the European Rail Freight Association (ERFA) and the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure (CER) jointly call for more attention to rail-port connectivity.

Not only the big ones

“Connections to the ports are a very good example of how the network can be improved. Not only to the large ports, but also to the smaller ports”, said Herald Ruijters, director at the European Commission, DG MOVE, responsible for investments, innovative and sustainable transport while speaking in the conference coach of the train.

“The Netherlands has a clear advantage with its ports. Therefore, I hope that intermodal is at the heart of the Dutch transport policy. The Dutch are experts in logistics, and they have the ability to combine road, rail and maritime”, emphasised also Kristian Schmidt, director of land transport at DG MOVE.

Modal split hinterland

Some seaports experience close to 50 per cent modal split towards rail, while others have much lower percentages of rail in their hinterland transportation. Taking Rotterdam and Antwerp as an example, the Dutch port has a rail share of ten per cent, and the port of Antwerp even seven per cent.

Improving the port-rail connections on a wider scale, both in terms of infrastructure and operations, is therefore crucial to increase the share of cargo transported by rail, the EU organisations stated. “The Connecting Europe Facility II should particularly promote rail projects, which improve the connectivity to and from Europe’s seaports, as improved linkage will bring direct efficiency gains for a large share of rail freight.”

Inside the Connecting Europe Express conference coach

Funding welcome

Monika Heiming, Executive Director of EIM commented: “Infrastructure managers consider rail-port connectivity as an essential tool to create the much-needed modal shift for freight, in order to reply to the ambitious environmental policies of the European Commission. The funding opportunities for strategic investments in rail-port connections under the new Connecting Europe Facility II are therefore much welcomed. Infrastructure managers will continue to improve the coordination between rail and ports with all stakeholders involved.”

Isabelle Ryckbost, Secretary-General of ESPO stated: “Improving the last-mile should be a first priority for getting more goods on rail, in terms of interoperability, data exchange, operations and infrastructure. In Europe we see a wide diversity of rail management systems in European ports. We need a level-playing-field and equal access to public funding for the necessary infrastructure investments, regardless of whether the port managing body or the national rail infrastructure manager is responsible for the rail infrastructure inside the port.”

Rail has momentum

According to Gilbert Bal, responsible for the rail freight product at the port of Rotterdam, rail has momentum now. “Customers are asking for the rail product. Since I started this position two years ago, 77 roundtrips were added to our portfolio”, he said while the Connecting Europe Express moved from Rotterdam to Antwerp. When asked in which sense the infrastructure could be approved, he pointed to track quality and the ability to run longer trains.

Also on the train was Ferdinand van den Oever, CEO of the port of Moerdijk, a port that relies heavily on rail. “We are trying to position ourselves between two giants (Rotterdam, Antwerp), and in doing so, rail freight connections combined with short-sea connections are key to survival”, he noted. The port wants to grow from sixty to seventy trains a week to about a hundred. Later this year, it will have three tracks of 740 meters each to facilitate longer trains, a key development for more volumes on rail.

Better access

Conor Feighan, Secretary General of ERFA commented: “In order for rail freight to become more attractive to end users, rail freight undertakings must have access to a good quantity and quality of capacity. As key gateways for freight, it is therefore essential that ports have infrastructure in place which facilitates the development of a competitive rail freight market.”

Dr. Alberto Mazzola, Executive Director of CER concluded: “Integrated and efficient connections between ports and rail infrastructure, both in Europe and in third countries are crucial to achieve the modal shift targets necessary for decarbonising transport. Improvement of last-mile connections must be accompanied by interoperable freight standards on the network and the revision of the TEN-T Regulation is an opportunity to close the gaps and bring ports and rail corridors closer together.”

Author: Majorie van Leijen

Majorie van Leijen is editor of RailFreight.com, the online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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