“Let’s modal shift together!” Under this slogan, Port of Antwerp, Railport and Infrabel are presenting their vision for doubling the proportion of goods transported by rail via the port by 2030. This modal shift is needed because more goods by rail is good for the climate, the economy and mobility. Infrabel is also using this rail vision for the port of Antwerp as a stepping stone to an approach for freight traffic throughout Belgium. This plan will be further developed by Infrabel along with the umbrella organisation for railway freight companies in Belgium and other stakeholders.
Let’s modal shift together!
Almost three quarters of all freight in Belgium is transported by road. This puts a lot of pressure on our planet and our society. Air pollution, traffic deaths and hours of traffic jams are just a few examples. By 2030, transport will grow by almost a quarter. That is untenable, so things must change. The railway is a sustainable solution. A freight train takes an average of 50 trucks off the road. It also emits 9 times less CO2, causes 8 times less air pollution, is 6 times more energy efficient and reduces road congestion. This is also in the interests of the road transport sector. To put less pressure on our planet, economy and mobility, it is important to transport more freight by rail. That is the modal shift, but it can only be done by working together. All the players involved in the logistics chain, such as the terminals, companies wanting to transport their goods, forwarders as well as the government, have an important role to play in this. The modal shift is not the story of a few, but a story of everyone together. So: “Let’s modal shift together!”
Rail vision must generate “enthusiasm” for it
In late 2019, the CEOs of Port of Antwerp, Railport (representing the companies active at the port) and Infrabel signed a collaboration agreement. The aim is to double the proportion of freight transported by rail from 7% to 15% by 2030, an ambition endorsed by the entire rail freight sector. For that to happen, the railway must be an attractive alternative. Business leaders therefore need to get “enthused” about rail. Important assets are that the railway is, even now, many times safer and more environmentally friendly than all other alternatives. Moreover, for the long distances, this form of transport is also very price-competitive. What should now convince companies even more is that rail traffic within the port will become even faster and more efficient. After signing the collaboration agreement, specialists from the three companies developed a joint railway vision for the port of Antwerp. This vision, presented today, focuses on seven pillars that aim to contribute to this:
Pillar 1 – Optimum management of traffic flows at the port across the entire logistics chain
Pillar 2 – High-performance parking policy for efficient use of available rail capacity
Pillar 3 – Operating the Antwerp North marshalling yard in a neutral manner + combining volumes
Pillar 4 – Targeted investments in a various port areas with the highest growth potential
Pillar 5 – Efficient use of rail infrastructure
Pillar 6 – Separate framework for regulation and port-specific rail policy
Pillar 7 – Common digital platform for the mutual exchange of information in compliance with competition rules
The shared vision from Port of Antwerp, Railport and Infrabel thus indicates the direction in which the three companies want to evolve. Its implementation is an ongoing project that can be adapted and adjusted, if necessary, in constructive consultation with all stakeholders. It is important that the three companies have agreed upon the priorities in which they wish to evolve in order to achieve this doubling of the proportion of freight transported by rail.
Concrete achievements such as concentration of signal boxes and harbour unit
The seven pillars contain projects aimed at the short, medium and longer term. A number of important issues, which are already beneficial to freight transport at the port of Antwerp, have already been dealt with. For example, on 28 March, the last signal box was taken over by the central signal box at Antwerp-North. This is a good thing for the safe and smooth running of freight trains. In addition, a special harbour unit was set up on 15 March. This includes various specialists who combine all their rail knowledge at the port. Everyone, every customer, who has a rail-related question can go here for a quick answer. A pragmatic solution is being sought. And, a final example, signalmen at Infrabel are being trained to offer real-time train paths (track capacity) to customers at the port. A huge advantage for the port, where companies have to be on the ball and every second counts.
Port of Antwerp railway vision as a step towards national policy
With their joint rail vision, Port of Antwerp, Railport and Infrabel have taken a crucial step towards upgrading rail freight transport at the port. But this is not the end. The port of Antwerp is a huge logistics hub and one of the main engines of the Belgian economy. Freight traffic to and from this port accounts for about 50% of the freight transport by rail in this country. What works well here can also be applied elsewhere. The plan presented today could therefore be a stepping stone to an overall vision from the infrastructure manager for freight transport throughout Belgium. There is a need for a modal shift at other logistics hubs and industrial sites in this country too.
2021 is the European Year of Rail. No better moment to make a strong commitment to the modal shift. For example, a global plan is currently being worked on to double the share of goods transported by rail throughout Belgium. A broad group of companies and stakeholders inside and outside the sector are in close consultation with each other. This group includes the umbrella organisation for Belgian railway companies, the Belgian Rail Freight Forum (BRFF), Port of Antwerp and Infrabel. Specialists are working on an integrated proposal for achieving this modal shift across the country. All the parties want to make this a national priority. Because we’ll make the modal shift… ALL TOGETHER.
Georges Gilkinet, Deputy Prime Minister and Federal Minister for Mobility: “Rail freight transport is a future-oriented solution for our economy, our health and our 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. The federal government’s objective of doubling rail freight transport by 2030 is clearly on track today, here in Antwerp! As Minister for Mobility, I am working with the railways on a “National Freight Transport Action Plan” to make even more use of the natural advantages and competitiveness of rail freight. There is no doubt that the projects on the table today will also inspire other ports and other industries.”
Port Alderman Annick De Ridder: “An efficient and sustainable rail policy puts our port on track for the future. The modal shift is invaluable for the future prosperity of the port and will guarantee our sustainable growth. Today we are all on the same track. The fact that all levels call for co-operation to turn this rail vison into a success, really is a milestone.”
Jacques Vandermeiren, CEO Port of Antwerp: “Port of Antwerp is the first world port to reconcile man, climate and economy. A modal shift is extremely important 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.”
Benoît Gilson, CEO Infrabel: “In ten years’ time, 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 extremely pleased with this common 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. Freight transport by rail must become a national priority. To realise this splendid ambition, we are working together with all our stakeholders, customers and with their customers. Together we will succeed!”