VIIA to operate new multi-modal terminal at French port of Sète

VIIA-operated train

SNCF Logistics’ rail freight subsidiary VIIA has won a tender to operate a new multi-modal terminal in the French Mediterranean port of Sète, scheduled to enter service at the beginning of 2023. The company also is planning to launch a rail ‘motorway’ route between Sète and Calais, in addition to two other routes connecting the port in the southeast.

New intermodal facilities entered service at Sète as recently as last August within the framework of the port authority’s strategy to significantly increase the percentage of freight leaving the port on trains.

Danish ro-ro shipping and logistics group DFDS operates three weekly round trips between Yalova, in Turkey and Sète – using vessels with a 300 freight unit capacity – which will increase to four in May. “We are not currently offering rail freight connections from Sète but are looking at various options for the future”, a spokesperson told

Lohr technology

The VIIA-run terminal will be built on a six-hectare site, with construction beginning this spring and lasting approximately eight months.

It will be equipped with technology developed by French company Lohr, which allows the horizontal transfer of all types of standard semi-trailers from road to rail – a railway system which VIIA said had already proved its worth at its terminals in Le Boulou, near Perpignan, on the French-Spanish border and Calais.

One lane of the new Sète terminal will be dedicated to horizontal loading and unloading while three other lanes will offer a vertical loading and unloading service for cranable semi-trailers and their swap bodies.

Sète-Calais route

On completion of the new terminal, VIIA has been contracted to launch a regular rail motorway service between Sète and the port of Calais, “a solution that will mainly address sea/rail intermodality”, the company noted. It will be complemented by two other new routes: Sète-Bettembourg (Luxembourg) and Sète- Paris.

“After a gradual start-up at the beginning of 2023, each route will gradually increase in capacity during the first two years of operation to eventually reach its optimal frequency level. Each week, 11 trains will run in each direction to carry a total of more than 43,000 intermodal transport units annually over more than 1,000 kilometres.”

Four rail motorways already in service

VIIA already operates four rail motorway services: Le Boulou-Bettembourg (with possible connections to Poznan, Rostock, Kiel and Antwerp); Le Boulou-Calais; Macon (centre-east France)-Calais and Aiton (east of Lyon) and Orbassano (Turin, Italy).

“We are proud to have won these two contracts to develop intermodality at the port of Sète. In the societal, economic and environmental context that we are experiencing, we can see that rail motorways represent an important gain in the ‘greening’ of the road logistics chain”, commented VIIA president, Charles Puech d’Alissac.

“They constitute a concrete response to the current problems related to climate change while respecting the constraints of logistics operators in terms of costs and transit times.”

VIIA’s sales and marketing director, Daniel Lebreton, told that the company had built up a solid presence at the port of Sète over the past three years in offering ad hoc services to destinations such as Paris, Bettembourg, Calais and Zeebrugge.

Strong growth

Commenting on VIIA’s current performance, Lebreton noted: “Traffic volumes are growing strongly across our network and are well above pre-2019 levels. We recorded growth of more than 30 per cent between 2020 and 2021.
“From next week (February 21), we are set to increase weekly round trips on our Calais-Le Boulou route to eight weekly and open the service to containers in order to connect the UK and Spanish market. Weekly round trips stood at five in January and so far this month are at six.”

Author: Stuart Todd

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