Romania can play an important role in European intermodal networks 19/04/24

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Romania can play an important role in European intermodal networks


Romania's position within international intermodal transport networks is a developing one, with significant potential, but also with challenges that require attention and investment.

In this context, Romania has the potential to play an important role in European intermodal networks due to its geographical position and access to the Black Sea through the port of Constanța.

"However, the development of intermodal transport in Romania is still in its infancy and faces many challenges, including the need for significant investments in infrastructure, such as terminals, specialized wagons, handling equipment and an integrated management system.

On the other hand, recent events have highlighted the importance of collaboration between different actors in the transport sector and state authorities to overcome existing challenges and improve infrastructure. Discussions between transport operators, authorities and end customers highlight the need for progress and support to improve intermodal transport conditions in Romania.

Although there are many challenges, we look optimistically at the future of intermodal transport in Romania, especially due to its potential to contribute to long-term environmental and transport efficiency objectives", says Rareș Retegan, Managing Partner Routier European Transport.

"The geographical position and the geopolitical context give Romania an important role in the European value and logistics chains", adds Dan Suciu, GOPET Romania intermodal manager.

Romania is included in two essential corridors of the TEN-T, having a significant position in the European automotive industry and being an attractive destination for Western companies due to rising energy costs and labor shortages.

In recent years, investments have been made in intermodal terminals, already creating a fairly robust network that can ensure operations and the efficient transfer of various types of intermodal transport units.

At the same time, István Wagner, General Manager of Railport Arad is of the opinion that Romania's position within international intermodal transport networks is relatively weak, considering the country's potential, which unfortunately has not been used.

First of all, because of the low rate of absorption of European funds, especially in the first ten years after accession.

"For a better connectivity with the rest of Europe, we need, in general, the modernization of the railway network and if we think about intermodal transport, in parallel with the first desired, we need to thicken the network of terminals. More simply: good infrastructure and more intermodal terminals are needed.

Considering the very nature of intermodality, another factor is the quality of the road and highway network, but in this respect we are somewhat better off," says István Wagner.

The development of railway infrastructure in Romania

Currently, Romania is in a period of intense infrastructural development, with multiple projects underway or completed that will improve the country's connectivity with the rest of Europe.

Among the most important projects mentioned by those interviewed are:

  • Electrification of the Oradea - Cluj railway : This project, which started this year, represents a crucial step in the modernization of the railway infrastructure in Romania. With the execution term of 3 years, it will facilitate the transport of goods between Western Europe and the port of Constanța, thus opening new routes to the Middle East and Asia.

Electrification will contribute to the efficiency and greening of rail transport, offering a sustainable alternative to road and maritime transport.

  • Upgrading the IV Rail Corridor: So far, about 400 kilometers of this corridor have been upgraded for a speed of 160 km/h.

Completion of works on the Simeria – Arad highway and the Bucharest – Giurgiu railway are expected by the end of 2024.

Other ongoing infrastructure projects include the electrification and modernization of other important railway lines, such as Brașov – Sighisoara and Videle – Giurgiu, and the rehabilitation of other essential sections, such as Craiova – Calafat.

Representatives of intermodal terminals and transport operators report that transparency regarding the progress of work is crucial to the efficient management of cargo transit.

The lack of up-to-date information can affect the planning and organization of transport flows. That is why effective communication between all the actors involved is essential to ensure the smoothest and most efficient implementation of the projects.

Obstacles to the development of intermodal transport in Romania

Romania faces numerous obstacles to the development of intermodal transport, an essential factor for efficient integration into European transport networks and for capitalizing on the benefits offered by intermodality.

Among these barriers, insufficiently developed infrastructure is one of the main challenges.

"The lack of an adequate railway infrastructure does not allow the organization of intermodal trains at competitive costs and optimal transit times between the south and the west of the country, as well as between Bulgaria and the West of Romania. Therefore, Romania does not benefit from the advantages of this type of transport, such as the decongestion of road traffic, the reduction of carbon emissions and noxes or reduced noise pollution.

The lack of adequate road infrastructure increases transport time and costs, fuel consumption and costs related to the maintenance and repair of means of transport, affects the driving schedule of drivers and implicitly the planning of units on the train.

And the refusal to integrate Romania into Schengen with land borders has a serious impact on rail transport; the control measures of the Border Police affect the operations of intermodal trains by increasing transit times", states Dan Suciu.

Another barrier is the underdeveloped network of terminals and the state's constant disinterest in this sector.

"From this point of view, the greening policies of freight transport initiated by the EU and assumed by Romania can also have a positive effect. It is another discussion how strongly these projects are obstructed by the war in Ukraine", explains Istvan Wagner.

Among other barriers mentioned by Rareș Retegan are:

  • Insufficient funding: Intermodal infrastructure projects require substantial investment. Limited access to funding, both at national and European level, can slow down or even stop the development of necessary projects.
  • Regulations and red tape: Lengthy bureaucratic processes and regulatory complexity can discourage initiatives to develop intermodal infrastructure. Simplifying administrative procedures and harmonizing regulations with European standards are essential for speeding up projects.
  • Lack of coordination between different modes of transport: In order to develop intermodal transport, effective coordination between rail, road, sea and air transport operators is necessary. Lack of close collaboration can lead to inefficiencies and suboptimal use of resources.
  • Resistance to change and adoption of new technologies: Transforming the existing transportation system and adopting new and sustainable technologies requires significant changes, both organizationally and culturally. The resistance to change of some transport operators can prevent the adoption of innovative intermodal solutions.

Private companies play an important role in stimulating the growth of intermodal transport in Romania

The private sector plays an important role in stimulating the growth of intermodal transport in Romania and can contribute to the development of the field through investments in intermodal transport units, technological and operational innovations that improve the efficiency of the transition towards a combined road-rail transport, as well as through long-term partnerships with the private operators of terminals, locomotives and wagons.

For example, GOPET invests in increasing the intermodal fleet , as it comes with increased flexibility.

"We can rethink the transport planning by increasing the road composition to counteract the shortcomings produced by closed lines or with restricted traffic. Once these blockages are lifted (the lines reopen to normal traffic), we will also return to using the rail component," says the GOPET representative.

Also, private companies can invest in technological development by being at the forefront of innovation, exploring and implementing new technological solutions, and together with the public sector can collaborate to promote intermodal transport that could lead to financing, supporting favorable policies and implementing infrastructure projects of intermodal transport, says Rareș Retegan.

“Private companies can lead by example by adopting sustainability standards and green business practices. This not only improves the company's image, but also promotes cleaner and more energy-efficient transport, contributing to Romania's and the EU's environmental goals.

Through these approaches, the private sector can significantly contribute to the development of intermodal transport in Romania, stimulating economic growth, improving connectivity and supporting the transition to a more sustainable and efficient transport system", he says.

In this sense, collaboration between the government and private companies is essential to improve the efficiency and competitiveness of intermodal transport in Romania. This partnership can be built in several directions:

  • Defining joint development strategies: Government and private companies could work together to establish long-term strategies that include both private and public sector investment. Identifying and implementing subsidy mechanisms to make intermodal transport more attractive to customers should be a priority.
  • Subsidizing private investment: The government could provide subsidies for private investment in intermodal transport equipment. This would stimulate the development of this mode of transport, making it more competitive and affordable.
  • Improving rail infrastructure: Continued investment in infrastructure and timely delivery of rail segments are crucial. The government should commit to improving rail infrastructure to facilitate intermodal transport.
  • Streamlining cross-border traffic: Implementing measures to streamline cross-border traffic is vital. This could include additional border control staff and the use of mobile control equipment to increase processing capacity.
  • Organization of combined transport trains: Another initiative could be the organization of accompanied RO-LA combined transport trains in transalpine and cross-border areas. This model could be inspired by the practices of the Austrian Railways and could be implemented in Romania to make freight transport more efficient.

"The modernization of the railway infrastructure is obviously a task of the state, but in the construction of the intermodal terminals in Romania, until now, the private sector has been involved exclusively, mainly through foreign investors.

Instead, there are several Romanian private companies that have already invested heavily in semi-trailers that can be lifted by cranes from intermodal terminals.

I see cooperation between the government and private companies as possible and desirable only in terms of the joint definition of long-term development strategies, including here both private and state investments, as well as the identification and implementation of those subsidy mechanisms that would make intermodal transport more attractive for existing and potential customers of this sector.

In this case too, we should not invent hot water, because there are enough good practices in Western Europe, only that here we have a lack of funds on the one hand, and on the other hand the fact that the lobby of those who deal with purely road transport it is incomparably stronger than any other lobby in the field of transport.

A concrete example: when subsidizing the diesel price, no one ever thought about the fact that the terminal cranes and tractors have diesel engines, but also that the shunting locomotives that serve the intermodal terminals are diesel locomotives," concludes Istvan Wagner.


Intermodally connected Romania

The last few years have brought an increase in the intermodal links that connect Romania with Western Europe, but also with Turkey, and in the next we will witness the launch of new services on this segment.

"We currently have 25 roundtrips per week, with small fluctuations plus or minus. The freight flow managed by Railport Arad is continental, with regular rail connections to Genk (Belgium), Cologne and Munich (Germany), Blerick (Netherlands), Tekirdag (Turkey) and Lambach (Austria). We are working on new projects that will connect our terminal with various terminals in Western and Northern Europe, and we are not giving up our old plan regarding the implementation of an internal connection, meaning Curtici - Bucharest," explains the general director of Railport Arad.

Currently, Gopet offers intermodal transport services with daily train setups, connecting terminals in Romania and other European countries, covering Belgium, the Netherlands, western Germany, northern France, Great Britain, Spain, using Huckepack Mega Varios semi-trailers Code XL.

"The colleagues from Gopet Turkey provide intermodal transport services through two weekly connections on the Curtici - Halkali route, using 45HCPW Containers," says Dan Suciu.

As for Routier Transport, the company facilitates the access of customers' goods to the entire Ruhr basin, Germany, Benelux and France.

"The Oradea-Stuttgart connection is an example of how Routier European Transport contributes to the effective connection of Romania with the European market. This route provides a vital link with southern Germany and central and even southern France, opening up new opportunities for trade and freight," says Rareș Retegan.

From December 2023, the company started operating a new intermodal terminal in Venlo, in the Netherlands. It operates on the Velno-Curtici route at the moment, but with the opening of operations from Oradea, the first flights will be operated on the Oradea-Venlo connection.

Routier European Transport's future plans include the development and expansion of other intermodal routes departing from the new terminal in Oradea.

"After the completion of the electrification of the railway between Oradea and Cluj, these routes will be able to connect Turkey and Constanța with Western Europe more efficiently. This expansion of the intermodal transport network will not only increase Romania's freight transport capacity, but will also ensure a closer integration in the European and global logistics chains," Rareș Retegan added.