Intelligent intermodality combines advantages of road and rail transport

Dissemination Conference in Ústí

After a little more than a quarter of its lifetime has lapsed, the transnational ChemMultimodal project invited stakeholders from the chemical industry and the logistics sector to a dissemination conference to share its achieved learning and to get input for upcoming activities. The event took place in Ústí nad Labem on 19 April 2017. Among the about 60 participants there were public administrations and business representatives, young students as well as experienced experts, locals and international guests. 

The first session of the conference was used for welcomes and an introduction of the project. The hosting ChemMultimodal partner, Ústí Region, is home to both a significant share of the Czech Republic's chemical industry and one of the country's most important intermodal hub, the Port of Lovosice. Given the territory's morphology and the high share of protected areas, the Governor of the region, Oldřich Bubeníček, regards the promotion of multi-modal transport as an important cornerstone for the local chemical industry's future competitiveness. The representatives from Saxony-Anhalt, Olaf Kreutzmann (Ministry for Regional Development and Transport) and Andreas Fiedler (Institute for Structural Policy and Economic Development) highlighted the benefits of a shift towards rail in the modal split for the transport of raw materials and products of the chemical industry. Despite that rail freight transport is producing less CO2 emissions and its unchallenged safety record, about 90 % of the cargo transported in Central Europe is carried on the road. Main reasons of the high share of road transport are its flexibility for today's warehouse on wheels concepts and bottlenecks in the rail freight network. Nadine Moritz from the University of Applied Sciences of Upper Austria reminded the audience that especially for longer distances and larger amounts of cargo there are clear economic benefits from multi-modal transport combining the advantages of road and rail transport within (Central) Europe. More awareness raising for the opportunities and added value will however be necessary - a challenge the ChemMultimodal consortium is addressing.  

In the following session, representatives from providers of logistic services showed how they have incorporated multi-modal solutions in their business portfolios. METRANS is operating about 270 trains per week, moving 13,000 tons of chemical products each month. It focuses on the transport of standardised containers which can easily be loaded on a train between cargo terminals and major inter-modal hubs (sea ports). For BOHEMIAKOMBI, the combination of road and rail transport is part of its business philosophie. It cooperates with different rail operators to handle cargo mainly through the inter-modal terminal at Lovosice near Ústí nad Labem. In turn, the Ostrava-Paskov terminal is home to most of AWT Ostrava's operations. The company focuses on cargo transport between Italian ports and Central and Eastern Europe. All modes of cargo transport are used by Unipetrol RPA, a leading producer of synthetic rubber. Rail freight transport's main advantages are here seen in shipping larger amounts of produce for longer distances, especially oversea exports.  Other cargo transport stakeholders speaking in the afternoon, including representatives of DB Schenker, the Port of Antwerp, and Ewals Cargo Care, highlighted that road transport will remain important but better interoperationality between different modes of freight transport could lead to a win-win-situation. As reliable drivers for cargo trucks are already scarce in Europe and the demand for transport solutions with a smaller carbon footprint is growing, inter-modal solutions such as a "huckepack" trailer that can either be pulled by a truck or loaded to a rail waggon could be part of the solution. 

In the final debate, the benefits and limits of multimodal and inter-modal freight transport were discussed. Especially for hazardous materials, the limited capacities for storage at rail cargo terminals represent a bottleneck, leading to most dangerous goods being transported by less saver trucks. Participants however agreed that customers from chemical industry will have to focus their transport decisions on cost optimisation. Hence, public actors such as the hosting Ústí Region are more in the role of a mediator, however being able to promote investments to reduce existing bottlenecks for rail freight transport.

Partners met on 19th April at the First Dissemination Conference in Ústí nad Labem.