Hupac seeks for state economic support, while continuing its development Eastward
Following the Rastatt accident, during the annual meeting held in Zurich the European combined transport leading operator – betting on a new intermodal terminal in Pordenone – asked for incentives and operational flexibility
Zurich – The infrastructure default in Rastatt (Germany) that interrupted European railways for a couple of months was the leit motiv also during the European combined transport leader Hupac's annual meeting held in Zurich. Its 2017 edition (celebrating its first 50 years of activity) was held in Lucerne, while the next one (scheduled for May the 17th 2019) will be held in Lugano.
The Italian representatives among the over 250 customers and suppliers from all over Europe and China were Furlog, Star Marcevaggi, ISC-NOI, Paganella, Fercam, F.lli Di Martino, Bernardini, Ambrogio, Mercitalia, Interport of Padua, Arcese and Port Authority of Genoa.
“We could have done something immediately, and we definitely could have done more; and we still wonder why we did not do enough!”, Board of Directors Chairman Hans-Jorg Bertschi pointed out referring to the great inconvenience caused by this default. “Although the Rastatt accident prevented us from achieving our usual double-digit growth due to two months of inefficiencies, we managed to close in the black thanks to our extraordinary first six months.
In any case, it was confirmed that transit in Switzerland is a unique driver, and we are confident about the corridor for 4 meters loading units which will be completed in two and a half years”.
“We managed to divert traffics to Singen, continuing by barge on the Rhine and heading to Mannheim by truck, thus avoiding greater damages. I would like to thank both our employees and customers for their great commitment, which allowed us to regain the market's confidence. As it has already been said at the Dusselforf forum, we are determined not to let something like that happen any more”.
As regards the past year and the first half of 2018, the take-over of ERS cannot be disregarded. “The traffic volume generated by the Dutch carrier allows us to start from a solid foundation of 200,000 TEUs. Moreover, through the participation of this carrier in BoXxpress (which in turn is a shareholding of Eurogate-Eurokai, i.e. Contship Italia group, ed.) we can enter also the German port market”, Hupac Director Bernhard Kunz pointed out.
“The Italian ports market is essential for us. We believe in the potential of these ports, especially Ligurian ones, as they have deep draughts suitable for deep sea traffic, while Adriatic ports are more suitable for short sea feeders”, SBB Cargo CEO Nicolas Perrin observed, being ready to support Hupac.
During the annual meeting it was officially announced that, from the summer of 2018, Michail Stalhut will become Hupac Intermodal director, and from 2020 he will become general director, while Kunz will support him with his great experience, as his predecessor Theo Allemann has done for many years after his retirement from the company of which, in 1967, he had been the first employee.
“The data at our disposal confirm that, while road traffic decreases, combined traffic keeps on growing, even though Rastatt caused a 6.5% decrease compared to the increase that we could have achieved. Having concluded our reorganization, which gave rise to specialized divisions, we worked to become intercontinental operators. Our group includes several specific companies from China to Russia, and we are planning to invest and participate in the growth of ports resulting from the new world traffic flows order (with reference to the Chinese Belt Road Initiative, ed.)”, Kunz confirmed, adding that “we want terminals to be open 24 hours a day and 7 days a week to make up for any possible inefficiencies and traffic queues. We also need the support of our customers, whom we urge to book in advance as 37% of them are still making reservations in the last 9 hours before departure, while only 40% of them book 24 hours in advance”.
Then Bertschi made an unavoidable request to Swiss institutions.
“Since Switzerland sanctions the modal switch policy pursued by Hupac, being also part of the constitution, we hope to receive state funds, especially to cover our significant investments in terminal resources, for which we plan a commitment of 56.8 million francs”.
Introducing the round table with customers, Bertschi recalled that “Rastatt, that caused some 2 billion euro damages, helped us understand that there was neither harmonisation nor planning. The two alternative routes, Singen and Brenner, were blocked in terms of additional capacity, and we lacked a crisis management because it took us three weeks to achieve a collective agreement. We perfectly understood what we need in terms of support infrastructures. Creating said infrastructures and extending terminal opening hours (currently closed from Saturday morning to Monday) definitely imply higher costs, but otherwise we will lose customers!”, Bertschi explained, adding that he is not just going to wait for 2020, when the Ceneri tunnel will be completed to support the Alptransit project.
“The current 400-600 yards on the north-south German corridor along the Rhine are too many. Moreover, the prevalent international traffic requires a European centralised management, as well as a traffic frequency to prevent freight traffic from being interrupted and slowed down by passenger trains transits”.
Meanwhile, works in the new terminals are in progress, both in Italy (Brescia, Milan and Piacenza), where they will be completed in 2023, and in northern Europe. According to rumours collected by Ship2Shore and reluctantly confirmed by Hupac's top management, the company concluded an agreement to create an intermodal terminal in Pordenone, in the north-east of Italy.
“We are working on this project”, Kunz and Bertschi confirmed.
They also repeated their request for actual state support: “It is not possible to stop public grants after 2020. They are planning a one-third reduction, but in Switzerland track costs are more than double the costs in Germany and Italy, thus making competition impossible. From 2024 we want a flat rate to replace grants because this would be an incentive for the creation of heavy trains. This is the only way to achieve the 2050 objective set by the EU to transfer 50% of freights to railways”, Bertschi concluded.
If the industry had acted unanimously, Rastatt would have been handled in a better way. This was the conclusion of the round table chaired by CNBC correspondent Nadine Dereza including one charterer (Ikea), one MTO (LKW Walter) and two railway companies (DB Cargo and SBB Cargo).
“We have a target of 95% of on-time deliveries, although short sea is much more flexible than railways”, Ikea Transport Business Development Manager Reneè Horsch observed. “Lead time is important, but even more so is certainty of deliveries. We look for reliability, scalability and flexibility in an optimal intermodal transport. We will continue to be a cash & carry company, excluding e-commerce. Our decarbonisation aims at using cardboard pallets rather than wooden ones, which are also lighter and more eco-friendly”.
According to Helmut Eder (LKW Walter), there is no real competition between private and public railway companies as “in case of contingencies, private companies must cover extra-costs, and this prevents them from being able to compete with state railways. We need more European solutions and less national ones”, the Austrian manager concluded.
“We should solve problems on our own, especially with trade unions. We aim at becoming simpler, at thinking bigger, at being readier and at learning to work together”, DB Cargo new CEO Roland Bosch explained.
“We are slow due to our great complexity; we have many assets having to work together. As we learned from the Rastatt accident, each country must be able to give a concrete response, and we need to know how to assign specific responsibilities. With the opening of the Ceneri tunnel in 2020, allowing us to increase productivity by one third, Italy and Switzerland will be forced to strengthen their cooperation.
The real problem is that infrastructures are not enough, therefore the clash between freights and passengers will continue, as it is evident also in motor-ways”, SBB Cargo CEO Nicolas Perrin concluded. In summary, they all need to work with transparency and harmony, cooperating for the final take-off of combined transport in the Old Continent.