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Old but efficient railways: Trieste/A CASE STUDY

Genoa - Some considerable time ago the Port of Trieste boarded the train and went out to conquer the market. And there is, in part, a historical reason, because at this port, that rivals Genoa for freight share, most goods that arrive and leave the docks do so by rail

Genoa - Some considerable time ago the Port of Trieste boarded the train and went out to conquer the market. And there is, in part, a historical reason, because at this port, that rivals Genoa for freight share, most goods that arrive and leave the docks do so by rail: much of its infrastructure was created under the Austrian regime. They are not exactly the most modern of railways, in fact. But, nevertheless, sufficient enough that even today it gives the port an edge over its competitors: “The difference between us and Italy’s North-West? We have a dated infrastructure, but we’ve come up with ways to make it work for us. In Italy there’s the erroneous notion that a lack of infrastructure becomes a justification for inaction, and useless waiting,” said port of Trieste’s president, Zeno D’Agostino, who has a long list of credentials in the logistics sector to his name.

Even today, Trieste is investing in railways: “When we sit around the table with those operators who want to do business at our port, we first bring up the question of how many freight trains they intend to operate. In November we achieved the goal we had set for the year of seven thousand trains.”

It’s a figure that no other port in Italy can match, and a 30% improvement over a twelve-month period, “At Pier VI we reached 90%, or almost all inbound and outbound freight by rail, a record-breaking performance.” And these are semi trailers, which translates as 90% fewer semi trucks on the roads. “The port’s average for freight rail mode is 45%, and we’re aiming to increase that.” In what way? “Semi-trailers account for two-thirds of the freight that enters and leaves the port by train: not just containerized freight. Turkey’s Ekol Logistics have decided to invest in Trieste, and we’re talking about one of the world’s leading players. Container operators have been affected by the downturn, those in logistics, instead, still have the economic capacity to carry out ambitious projects.” And through another of the port’s piers more freight-trains will soon arrive: “MSC group has decided to come on board with a controlling stake in Pier VII.” Since its early days, Trieste has been availing itself of the North-South axis: “We reach all the way to Cologne, we’re the true competition to Northern European ports.”

Yet, a recent study released by Drewry noted that compared to Koper, Trieste is at a disadvantage, as, along the sea-route that connects Germany’s industrial centres with China, the Slovenian port of Koper, located only a few tens of kilometres away, is better positioned than Trieste: “Their data is distorted: we reach Munich in 11 hours. Koper has issues when it comes to the railway. We handle 134 trains per week, while their maximum is between 115 and 120 trains.”

D’Agostino is certain to win the race against their rival Slovenian neighbours, “While Italy’s rail network gets usually bad reviews, in Slovenia and Croatia it’s really much worse. We have the capacity for twenty-thousand trains, and we’re only at 7,500 per year.” Trieste’s goal is to reach the eleven-thousand mark, “also working on our links with Eastern Europe.” On the eastern front there’s another advantage: “We’re located at the periphery of the EU’s powerhouse, but, paradoxically, that’s a plus. We are away from major passenger flows and so our rail tracks have more availability.”

The port of Trieste closes the year with growth in business, even as container volumes are decreasing, and it is thanks in large part to the railway: “Infrastructure is not just a topic for construction engineers. What’s also needed are ideas, ways to explain how to utilize them and make them work. My impression is that the Terzo Valico Genoa-Milan rail link project may be suffering from this lack of imagination.”

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