Hupac's 2023 performance indicates the struggles of European rail 14/02/24

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Author: Nikos Papatolios



Hupac's 2023 performance indicates the struggles of European rail


Multiple challenges, some continuing from previous years and some appearing out of the blue, created a not-so-business-friendly environment for intermodal operator Hupac in 2023. The company saw its traffic and volumes declining across its whole network and has implemented strategic moves to tackle the harsh market conditions.


In 2023, Hupac transported approximately 975,000 road consignments, corresponding to around 1,866,000 TEUs. Compared to 2022, the company experienced an 11.7 per cent decline in traffic volumes, specifically a decrease of about 130,000 road consignments.

The company shared that this negative trajectory characterised all transport segments along its network, which all experienced a decline, albeit at different levels. For instance, according to the company, transalpine transport had a relatively moderate drop of 7.6 per cent.

The challenges have forced the Swiss intermodal operator to adjust its strategy in many cases, but this has not prevented it from simultaneously expanding its portfolio. Alessandro Valenti, director of Shuttle Net, explained that in some cases, Hupac has “temporarily consolidated departures”. Nevertheless, “other services, such as the Benelux-Italy corridor between Zeebrugge and Novara and Busto Arsizio and the Rotterdam-Warsaw/Brwinów route have been expanded with additional frequency,” he added. Hupac also just launched a new service between Zeebrugge and Piacenza.

Falling demand, and more

Understandably, Hupac’s 2023 performance was characterised by the usual suspects of the last couple of years. Declining transport demand due to shifts in consumer behaviour and industrial production, increased prices that the market struggles to follow up, and a deteriorating situation in the German railway network posed some of the most substantial issues.

As if the above weren’t enough, transalpine infrastructure impairments, with the most notable being the Gotthard Base Tunnel partial closure, functioned as the finishing touch on an already dysfunctional business environment. However, Hupac is content with the way that infrastructure issues have been dealt with.

“Fortunately, the impact on rail freight transport is limited, as good solutions have been found together with SBB,” commented Michail Stahlhut, CEO of the Hupac Group, who also hinted that expectations are similar for upcoming upgrades in Germany. “We expect that the forthcoming necessary general overhaul of the German rail network will be organised in a market-compatible manner so as not to nip the politically desired turnaround in transport in the bud,” added Stahlhut.

Two different policy fronts

Hupac could not avoid similar comparisons between Switzerland and Germany also in terms of policy. The company deemed the support and subsidisation measures adopted by the Swiss Office of Transport as positive and effective.

Nevertheless, Hans-Jörg Bertschi, chairman of the board of directors of Hupac, stressed that support should also persist on transalpine combined transport. “The planned focus on short-distance transalpine transport from southern Germany and Switzerland must not be at the expense of other segments,” said Bertschi, underlying that long-distance transport is the most threatened segment at the moment.

On the other hand, Germany’s latest policy decisions did not go unnoticed. The reduced rail subsidies resulting from significant budgetary cuts create even more disproportionate financial conditions for operators, especially in the combined transport sector.

“The current, unplanned significant reduction in track access charge subsidies in Germany is worsening the framework conditions for combined transport and, given the current margin situation, will inevitably lead to the additional costs being passed on to the market,” underlined the company, with its CEO emphasising that the industry and all relevant parties “must do everything they can to stop the trend of shifting traffic back from rail to road”.