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Editor in chief: Angelo Scorza
20/03/20 09:52

The UK rethinks it and tries to tackle the emergency

The reactions of rail transport and shipping to the coronavirus threat

by Angelo Scorza

The UK government made a U turn after the initial announcement of ‘no worry’ for the threat represented by the widespread corona virus and suddenly introduced new measures to combat the menace in order to leave all but essential industry in unchallenged operation.

Being now wide aware that, without the change of approach and severe restrictions to public life, the country might have to tackle a catastrophic epidemic with hundreds of thousands fatalities, premiere Boris Johnson realised the drama is just around the corner, especially of nothing was done.

Since the supply chain to feed the population still has to operate, the rail freight network is considered the potential saviour of the nation’s economy thanks to its wide and articulated network offering the chance to reach almost all destinations in the British island.

In Europe intermodal operators are taking special measures in order to continue operations; terminals are redesigned and workforce instructed to have as little social contact as possible.

DB Cargo of Germany announced all operations to international destinations run on their schedule, including those to and from Italy while terminal handling is also taking place according to plan.

Rail Cargo Group of Austria said all freight trains run without restrictions according to the timetable; depending on customer demand, capacity for intermodal and conventional goods transport by rail from/to Italy can be increased at any time, and its warehouses in Desio and Santo Stino Livenza also operate as usual.

TX Logistik of Germany confirmed combined rail traffic is safe, its European intermodal network is fully functional, including routes to and from Italy.

Intermodal operators and lobby organisations collectively issued an Open Letter to Italian and European institutions on Wednesday 11 March that includes a list of measures to safeguard intermodal transport in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, that can be summarised as ‘contactless terminal management’.

Hupac has taken measures to come as close as possible to ‘contactless terminals’ since the beginning of the month with the aim to reduce physical contacts between the people involved, by fully eliminating the need for contact or, where this is not possible, always maintaining the minimum recommended distance of 2 metre between them.

On the maritime side, the UK Chamber of Shipping spoke with the Maritime Minister Kelly Tolhurst on 17 March and demanded an immediate multi-million pound government support package to ensure the industry can continue to bring in the food, goods and medicines the UK will need to fight the coronavirus.

“Shipping is the lifeblood of our nation and we must do what we can as an industry to keep our supply lines open for a strong and healthy UK. Shipowners will adapt to meet the ongoing coronavirus challenges head on: it will mean changes to infrastructure, employment and processes on ships and in ports but it will only succeed with the necessary leadership and support from government today” stated UK Chamber of Shipping Chief Executive Bob Sanguinetti.

“We urge the government to set up an emergency relief fund to help the industry, a sector moving 95% of our trade and employing 180,000 people. Immediate and ongoing financial support from the government is needed to guarantee the importation of essential medical supplies, food, manufacturing components and other goods, and the future prospects of our seafarers.”