Port of Antwerp and Infrabel announce their shared rail vision

The Port of Antwerp, Infrabel and Railport announced their joint plans to grow the port’s share of goods transported by rail. The following decade, until 2030, constitutes the timeframe in which the three companies will implement their strategies to almost double the percentage of rail freight from 7 per cent to 15 per cent. For this reason, during a press conference at the port on 31 March, they presented a strategy consisting of seven main pillars that will result in the coveted modal shift. 

“Let’s modal shift together”. That was the slogan of the trilateral collaboration aiming to transport more goods by rail. It is a fact that in Belgium almost three-quarters of transport takes place by road haulage. Estimations show that by 2030 Belgium’s transport will grow by a quarter; however, this development could have a detrimental impact on the environment and the Northern European country’s society without a strong rail freight. 

Consequently, the vision to double port of Antwerp’s rail freight share in transport could also be considered a test for an approach that could apply extensively for Belgian freight traffic in general. 

Watch the video

RailFreight.com joined the press conference. Watch the video report below.

A multifaceted approach

Following a period of intense negotiations over the Port of Antwerp’s rail infrastructure management, in 2019, the Port, Infrabel and Raiport signed a collaboration agreement to give rail freight its deserved position finally. Almost two years later, the three companies came up with a more concrete approach to reach their objectives which sums up in seven main pillars.  

Pillar number one dictates the optimisation of traffic flows management at the port across the entire logistics chain. Infrabel’s coordinating role will be of central importance in this case since it will supervise information exchange between different stakeholders, divide and allocate capacities and facilitate the whole process of flow management. Pillar number two aims to release as much capacity on the port’s rail infrastructure as possible. With a high-performance parking policy, available rail tracks will be used more efficiently.

The third pillar is all about the neutral operation of the Antwerp North marshalling yard. By organising a neutral and transparent managing model with the port’s rail companies’ participation, goods’ delivery will become faster and cheaper. Moreover, pillar number four imposes the need for more and smarter investments in various port locations, prioritising those with higher growth potential. Next comes the efficient use of the existing infrastructure. This fifth pillar is all about investing in infrastructure according to its usage. Consequently, the costs of maintaining the underused infrastructure will reduce, and other solutions will emerge, such as using it for parking purposes. 

Finally, pillars six and seven are the most important ones. Specifically, the port will be subject to a unique regulatory framework for rail policy from now on. This means that it will have its own rules that will provide more space for flexibility and simplified procedures. All the above will become possible with the seventh pillar, which concerns the creation of a shared digital platform for the mutual exchange of information. Going fully digital while complying with the port’s competition rules will be critical for future growth. 

Implementing the vision

Understandably, the shared vision’s implementation includes several projects with a short, medium and long-term character. Additionally, the companies involved underline that the whole implementation process will not be stiff but flexible, based on adaptation according to emerging needs.

If everything goes according to plan, this new approach could also function as a stepping stone to revise the policies for rail freight transportation throughout the whole country of Belgium. After all, the Port of Antwerp currently handles freight traffic volumes accounting for about 50 per cent of the country’s overall freight traffic. Subsequently, what could work for the port, would most probably work for Belgium’s entire rail freight sector.

Plans welcomed unanimously

The parties involved in the new project underlined the importance of everyone working together for a shared purpose: the growth of rail freight traffic and the modal shift from road to rail. According to the Port of Antwerp’s CEO, Jacques Vandermeiren, “a modal shift is significant for sustainable growth. With the rail vision of Port of Antwerp, Railport and Infrabel, we are taking a big, concrete and widely supported step towards doubling the share of rail in traffic to and from the port”.

On his behalf, Infrabel’s CEO, Benoit Gilson, commented that “in ten years, we want to double the share of freight transported by rail in the port of Antwerp. That is a challenge that Infrabel is happy to take on. I am incredibly pleased with this shared rail vision because it puts all our noses in the same direction. The modal shift to rail is good for people, the environment and society”.

These new developments were also welcomed with joy by Belgium’s Federal Minister for Mobility, Georges Gilkinet, who said that “rail freight transport is a future-oriented solution for our economy, health, and environment reducing the number of trucks on the road. I fully support this initiative by the Port of Antwerp, Infrabel and Railport: only by working together will we find solutions”.

Author: Nikos Papatolios

Nikos Papatolios is editor of RailFreight.com, the online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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