French intermodal sector's mediocre outlook for 2024 21/12/23

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France’s intermodal transport players are rather lacking in optimism when it comes to the market outlook for next year after what has been a very challenging 2023. A snapshot survey by the industry body Groupement National des Transports Combinés (GNTC) showed that 90 per cent of its members see the economic climate worsening this year.


GNTC has 70 members, which include road hauliers, combined transport operators–both road-rail and road-river, terminal operators, and equipment hire companies. For 2024, 46,7 per cent of the members expect a further deterioration in market conditions, and 43,3 per cent expect business to remain stable, with only 10 per cent seeing any hope of improvement.

Furthermore, 63,3 per cent of members expect to suspend their investments, and 73,3 per cent to refrain from recruiting staff next year due to a lack of visibility on the level of demand and market dynamics.

Sharp downturn in H1 2023

Earlier this autumn, the GNTC highlighted a sharp downturn in French road-rail freight activity of 22 per cent in the first half of this year following a positive 2022. It cited repeated strikes at SNCF in protest of state pension reform, which deprived the sector of drivers, handlers, and signalling staff essential to the night-time operation of the ‘rail’ motorways.

In addition to cancelled trains and goods being transferred to trucks because of industrial action, other factors have weighed heavily on operations in the sector, notably soaring electricity costs, which have led to rate hikes and the economic slowdown in Europe.

The industry was also dealt a serious blow at the end of August when a major rockfall brought rail freight traffic between France and Italy via Modane to a standstill. The Alpine crossing is not scheduled to re-open before the end of 2024.

Jean-Claude Brunier, CEO of the combined transport group Open Modal, which owns TAB, T3M, BTM and Combirail, described 2023 as an “annus horribilis” for combined transport. “We’ve seen it all, from strikes linked to pension reform in the first quarter to rising energy costs and interest rates, not to mention the damaging rockfall.”

Jean-Claude Brunier, CEO of the combined transport group Open Modal. Image: © AFRA.

H2 2023 does not look much better

After the sharp downturn in activity in the first half of the year, Brunier expects traffic to fall by 17 per cent in the second half of 2023 compared to the same period last year.

Open Modal is anticipating a 15 per cent dip in the projected turnover of over 50 million euros for its combined transport subsidiary, T3M. “Unfortunately, (because of the downturn) some companies are likely to be left by the wayside. So it’s an annus horribilis, but at the same time, the combined transport sector has all the operational and relevant solutions to decarbonise land transport.”

Open Modal is poised to open a state-of-the-art intermodal terminal for swap bodies and containers in Miramas, on the outskirts of Marseille. The project has attracted investment of more than 30 million euros.


Author: Nikos Papatolios