Regarding the rail infrastructure, “Solving the remaining barriers between member states is a real priority for ports”

This year the z (EFIP) and the European Sea Ports Organisation (ESPO) agreed on a joint position in railway transport, as railway infrastructure is the most important element for port activities, as well as for freight railway operators, including those managing the railway infrastructure. During the “Railway Days” 2011 Summit, Isabelle Ryckbost, Director EFIP, shared with us the opinions of the organisation on the role of railways in the activity of ports. Therefore, EFIP believes that before initiating projects strictly related to the sea transport of freight, ports should consider the importance of this transport mode to the activity of ports, as the freight volumes in ports depend on those shipped on rails. However, railway infrastructure has problems that need urgent resolution and the implementation of massive financing problems. The objectives presented so far are only few of those considered by EFIP and the interview below presents further details from the EFIP representative,  Isabelle Ryckbost.

Railway Pro: This year, EFIP-ESPO find a joint position issued on European rail policy. In this matter, rail is an important element for ports business segment. What is the rail importance in ports mechanism and activities ?

Isabelle Ryckbost: Both for seaports and inland ports, the existence of adequate rail links between the port and the hinterland and the efficient use of this railway infrastructure linking the port with the hinterland are of paramount importance.
From a seaport point of view, efficient and sustainable hinterland connections are increasingly important. Given the context of growing volumes, of bigger vessels coming to the big core European seaports, it is clear that sustainable solutions have to be found to transport these freight flows to the hinterland. Moreover, often the development of additional capacity in a seaport will only get an approval if some strong engagements as regards sustainable hinterland flows are made. A good example in that respect is the development of the Maasvlakte II in Rotterdam, where an authorisation for the project  could only be obtained if they agreed  to apply strict modal split targets in favour of rail and barge transport for the transport to the hinterland.
But there is more. To face the growth rates in container handling, seaports are also increasingly looking beyond their own infrastructure and facilities and liaise with intermodal inland terminals in their hinterland. Inland ports and terminals allow for de/re-consolidation of cargo flows, and can help seaports to fully exploit potential economies of scale. Here again, performing railway links are, together with inland waterway links, a decisive factor.
From an inland port point of view, a well functioning and efficient railway infrastructure is fundamental. Inland ports are a lot more than entrance and exit gates on the waterway. Inland ports are important nodes in the inland transport network. Their success depends on their efficient water and railway transport links with the seaports and with the different economic centres. For inland ports situated along waterways, which do not have a guaranteed navigability all year round, railways are even more important.
At the same time, seaports and inland ports can be considered as very important “feeders” of the rail freight trains and their lines in the European Union. Sea port related traffic, as a part of the overall European traffic mix constitutes a significant volume. WORLDNET estimated that some 603bn inland tonne kilometres are generated annually within the EU territory from seaborne freight, about a quarter of total freight. Looking at rail freight, 26% of the rail freight traffic in the European Union is port related.

Railway Pro: EFIP-ESPO identified the European railway system problems. To solve all these, the Single European Railway Area is the best solution. What is the role of the Single European Railway Area in the development of ports?

Isabelle Ryckbost: European  seaports and by extension the European inland ports,  are as to say “the gates” to the European continent. 80% of the international trade is coming into Europe by maritime transport. These goods are coming in with huge vessels and  have then to be distributed all over Europe.  To obtain a seamless transport and supply chain it is extremely important that  the transport to the hinterland can work in a European way. This is to a large extent the case for road transport, hence it is successful often. But unfortunately  it is not always the case for rail transport, where problems of interoperability,  limitations in market access, create obstacles that make rail transport flows less fluent. Solving the remaining barriers between member states, be it legal, technical or political, is therefore for ports a real priority.

Railway Pro: As you said at the Summit, the investments in rail infrastructure are not always demand driven. Can you explain in what context the investments in rail infrastructure and modernization projects are not important?

Isabelle Ryckbost: Ports would like to be more recognised and involved as partners for the railway sector, when it comes to decide on new investments. When rail investments plans and strategies are developed, ports should be involved, so that there needs and there knowledge about the traffic flows and needs can be taken up in the investments. It is for instance important that the quality of the infrastructure and the tracks relate to the demands of the market and the function it has to fulfil, avoiding overinvestment and obliging the user to pay for a quality that is not needed.

Railway Pro: In your presentation, you said that EFIP supports the internalisation of external costs. What is EFIP opinion regarding the correct calculation ?

Isabelle Ryckbost: As regards the internalisation of external costs of transport, the Commission is proposing a policy in two phases. In a second phase (2016-2020), the Commission  wants to internalise the costs of local pollution and noise in ports.
EFIP believes that calculating the correct price of externalities of all modes of transport  and taking these externalities into account in the transport costs will help transport users  in finding transport alternatives that are best both  for the economy and the environment. This will benefit the use of environmentally friendly modes of transport, in particular waterborne transport and rail. To inland ports, it must however be clear that the internalisation of external costs should only be used to  make transport modes more comparable for the user, not as an instrument to increase the overall cost of transport and to feed the national budgets. Moreover, the internalisation should only relate to the external costs and has to be distinguished very clearly from the infrastructure costs.
But, the European inland ports see no point in, and no way of, extending the internalisation of external costs to the ports as such. Inland ports have a transshipment function but are at the same time a cluster of industrial and logistic businesses of all kind. Each of these installations and industries are subject to different environmental legislation and taxes. The internalisation of external costs (local pollution and noise) in ports would thus mean that the ports would have to bear once again for the externals costs of the industries in the ports, costs that are often already borne by the individual businesses through their sectoral legislation and tax regimes. This would lead to a double taxation. On other option would be to identify exactly what the external costs are linked to the transshipment and transport activities in and around the port and isolate these costs in view of their internalisation. This as well does not seem to be a feasible option since the transport and industrial/business activities are fully interrelated.
EFIP therefore opposes the White Paper’s proposal to internalise the costs of local pollution of the ports. EFIP notes that the staff working document is more moderate on this point and takes into account the specificity of ports.

[ by Pamela Luică ]
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