Year end interview

2022: a challenging, unstable, yet fruitful year for rail freight

Image: Pixabay. Nick.

As 31 December approaches, and 2023 is peeking at us behind the New Year’s drop curtain, conversations at work, stores or even bars always entail a long sigh followed by the partially sad and partially joyful expression – ‘what a year it has been’. Indeed, most of us could relate to this end-of-year acknowledgement, which bears the weight of some hard months. The rail freight industry is no exception since it went through a lot -oh, this word again- challenges. Crises, a war and a pandemic were all amalgamated in 2022. Nevertheless, the industry might have gained more than it lost, but then again, this depends on one’s viewpoint. got in touch with four key industry players and asked them four questions to assess and sum up 2022 as a business year. How did companies look at it? Did they experience positive developments? What are their highlights for the old and wishes for the new year? RTSB, Rail Cargo Group, METRANS and T.H.I Logistics provided their input in this extensive interview.

Before you continue reading this article, the whole team would like to wish a very happy New Year full of joy, light and success to you, your colleagues and your family!

If you could rate 2022 from one to ten in terms of success for the rail freight industry, how would you rate it? Could you explain why this grade?

RTSB: “The whole rail freight industry has been shaken this year. Several external effects, starting with an equipment shortage in early 2022, the late pandemic influences on the producing sector and surely the situation between Russia and Ukraine, forced our market to reinvent itself. Keeping all this in mind, we would rate this past year as quite successful and give it a solid 8.”

T.H.I Logistics: “2022 is a possible 7. Due to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, many customers choose the Middle-corridor route as an alternative solution. However, it is less efficient than envisaged in meeting customers’ needs. Besides, another issue concerns the variety of Silk Road hubs in Europe that rail carriers wish to expand even more.”

Rail Cargo Group: “I would give it a 10 in terms of proving its systemic relevance, with the grain exports from Ukraine being the prime example. In terms of economic success, it is more like a 5. We managed the energy price increases well; however, in terms of volume, we’re slowly but surely gliding into a weaker economy,” commented the company’s CEO, Clemens Först.

METRANS: “2022 is a 5. The year could definitely be better. However, we are not down! We can and will do better. We can say that 2022 was the year of the “new normality” full of changes, full of challenges. Rail is facing an energy crisis, capacity issues, and many more troubles. These many problems in the background seriously impact the economic results and logistics and intermodal life, not only in METRANS. They reduce the competitiveness of the whole railway market, and we consider this point very important for this year and next year.”

In which sense was it better than 2021? Can you name some of positive developments?

Rail Cargo Group: “The year 2022 was in many aspects much worse than 2021 and even 2020, starting with a war raging in Europe. From a rail freight perspective, the entire sector faced many challenges. Apart from energy price increases and the pioneering task of exporting significant volumes out of Ukraine, other successful examples include securing the fuel supply for Austria after the accident in the only Austrian refinery Schwechat, which had a very high construction intensity and unseen volatility in maritime supply chains. Moreover, we expanded our business with new subsidiaries in China and Serbia, allowing us to expand our TransNET further. Finally, we have thoroughly prepared for the amendment of the Waste Management Act, which stipulates a gradual shift of waste transports from road to rail from 2023 on in Austria. However, all of this – and this is important for me to say – would not have been possible without our superb team. In 2022, I am personally very proud of the exceptional commitment and passion for rail freight shown by the great RCG team,” said Clemens Först.

METRANS: “One positive expectation we had for 2021 was the stabilisation after the pandemic. However, as quickly as stabilisation came, it was gone. If we could name some positive developments, these would include the ability to adapt our intermodal and rail products to the changing demand, and we have introduced new products. The most important new products concern those trains serving Istanbul and the port of Gdansk, the trains from Ukraine to Trieste PLT and the acquisition of the terminal in Malaszewicze. No matter what, we are sticking to the plan.”

RTSB: “2021 was a wild year for our industry. However, we were able to largely enhance the quality of our products, which is so important from a marketing and customer service perspective. It also became easier to promote new gateways like the TMTM corridor, which is also a plus. One positive development for the industry is that the rail freight industry was able to become a steady competitor to the common means of transport, such as sea and air freight. However, we must be clear that we will fall behind without continuous development. This year has brought more growth than any other regarding new corridors, products or processes. We must strive to keep up this momentum to stay successful.”

T.H.I Logistics: “The transit time was better than in 2021, while we experienced deeper international cooperation reflected, for instance, on the launching of the train with a fixed timetable to Hamburg and Duisburg. This is probably the key highlight of the year, together with all the experience the industry gained through the challenges that occurred.”

What was your favourite (work-related) moment for you in 2022?

METRANS: “One of the greatest moments would be our score with acquiring our terminal in Malaszewicze, and every new connection to the METRANS network is for us a big moment. For example, new investments in the terminals, like a new gantry crane in Budapest, Ceska Trebova, and investments in Gadki/Poznan or Berlin, are big moments for us all the time, and we are happy to enjoy them.”

Rail Cargo Group: “Definitely, when we exported the millionth tonne of grain from Ukraine – not least because we also made an industry-leading contribution to supporting Ukraine.”

T.H.I Logistics: “It is not a specific moment, but the fact that despite the Russian-Ukrainian conflict affecting many international situations, many customers are still willing to trust the China-Europe train.”

RTSB: “One of the best moments was supporting our employees throughout these difficult times. Providing stability and certainty in challenging times gives a unique opportunity to grow together and form a strong mindset within the company, resulting in a common identity and allegiance.”

If you could send in one rail freight wish for 2023, what would it be?

T.H.I Logistics: “We hope that, with closer cooperation between governments, the China-Europe trains will run more smoothly; they will perform better in international logistics services, and more customers will trust and choose the CEB service.”

Rail Cargo Group: “We know that shifting freight transport to rail is the only way to reconcile ambitious climate targets with economic and transport growth. That is why I would like to see significant European measures to create framework conditions for the success of rail freight, such as guaranteed track capacity and a cap on traction electricity, so as not to prevent a modal shift to rail,” concluded Clemens Först.

RTSB: “Our wish for the upcoming year would be to reach the volumes from 2021 while sustaining the operational quality we delivered in 2022. Additionally, we obviously hope for some calmer and more peaceful times ahead. We think we are all ready for a less turbulent year or two.”

METRANS: “Free tracks without disruptions, lower and more stable prices for traction energy. Whether this is a wish or a dream, we don’t know. We wish everybody nice and peaceful holidays, and may the upcoming year, 2023, be healthy and prosperous and make all of us happy and satisfied.”

Author: Nikos Papatolios

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

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