Window of opportunity

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Globalisation and the opening of the single European market have stimulated a massive growth in international freight transport. However, it is apparent that Europe’s transport system has failed to keep pace with this growth. Presently, Europe’s transport network is characterised by an unacceptable increase in road congestion, due to the persistence of bottlenecks and of missing links and a lack of inter-operability. Furthermore, the prospect of EU enlargement to include 12 new countries (mostly east European) accentuates the needs for a new approach to preserve the competitiveness of the EU’s economy, and to guarantee a balanced and sustainable development of transport. Also, to give new impetus to create a real trans-European network (TEN).

Presently, Europe’s freight transport suffers from an imbalance between the different transport modes, to the detriment of railways, short sea shipping and inland waterways. In short, road freight dominates, and has done so for much of the post-war period. Unfortunately, Europe’s rail network remains fragmented, and too little has been invested in technical solutions to enable waterborne transport, such as short sea shipping and inland waterways, to play a fuller part in efficient and sustainable door-to-door logistics services. However, there are expectations that this situation may be about to change as a result of the EC’s 2001 transport white paper, European Transport Policy for 2010: Time to Decide, setting out the guidelines to establish a better European transport policy.

The white paper marked out 60 practical measures designed to bring about significant improvements in the quality and efficiency of transport within the EU by 2010. Basically, the policy document was designed to stimulate a significant shift of freight from roads to other transport network up to 2020 based on the member states’ proposals. In accordance with their mandate, the group reported on the list of priority projects to address the issues of transport modal balance, inter-operability and reduction of bottlenecks. The group maintained that the objective of sustainable development requires a shift in modal balance in favour of transport modes, which are alternatives to road, namely rail, inland waterways and short sea shipping. To promote short sea shipping the group defined four motorways of the sea, for which member states concerned will have to devise projects of common interest. (See Fig 2).

According to the EC, the term

Motorway refers to easy access,

significant and smooth traffic

flows, steady and relatively high

average speed, bypassing

congested urban areas, reliability

and high level of safety. This must

also be the case with the

Motorways of the Sea for them to

attract commercial operators. As

such, Motorways of the Sea should

make it possible to bypass land

bottlenecks in Europe as part of

comprehensive door-to-door logistics

supply chains. These bottlenecks

may be geographical, such as the

Alps and Pyrenees, or they may be

areas where there is recurrent

road congestion. This would

include certain areas such as in

Germany and South-east England.

The Motorways of the Sea should offer efficient, regular and frequent services that can compete with road, for instance in terms of transit time and price. The ports of the Sea Motorways should have efficient hinterland connections and a high level of service that is targeted to make short-sea operations successful.

As illustrated on the map the four designated Sea Motorways include:

l A Sea Motorway covering the Bay of Biscay, the Irish Sea, the English Channel and North Sea.

l A Sea Motorway covering the Baltic States.

l Two Sea Motorways covering the eastern and western Mediterranean areas.

The success of the Motorways of the

Sea will depend notably on improving

logistics chains; the simplification

and automation of administrative

and customs procedures; and the

introduction of common traffic

management systems.

The High Level Group maintains that short sea shipping has untapped potential and could do more to remove lorries from roads in congested areas. Maritime routes which better link countries isolated by natural barriers such as the Alps, the Pyrenees and the Baltic Sea, as well as island countries, such as Britain and Ireland, should be as important as road motorways or railways in the trans-European network.

Action in progress

For some companies with both feet firmly planted in road transport, the idea of fully integrating short sea shipping into the logistics supply chain may appear far-fetched. If so, it may pay dividends to consider the following – up to the 1950s, fleets of small coastal ships were widely used to supply the goods required by most of Britain’s industrial conurbations. This was obviously in the days long before 30 million-road vehicles fought daily for road space, the building of motorways and the ubiquitous congestion.

At a technical level, shipbuilders have been gearing up to provide purpose-built ships dedicated to short sea shipping. For example, Spanish shipbuilder IZAR and Rolls-Royce have plans to develop a new European High Speed Cargo vessel (EHSCV) for use as a cost-effective short sea shipping solution to help solve Europe’s increasing road congestion and environmental problems. The monohull EHSCV will be able to carry 124 vehicles, have a service speed of 37 knots and is said to be economically competitive with road transport on routes between 300 and 700 nautical miles. The EHSCV design meets the needs of ship owners wishing to develop vessels in line with the Marco Polo programme, which offers aid-funding support to projects, which improve the environmental performance of Europe’s freight transport system. (See Fig 3).

Short sea shipping is already well established, both in Europe and Britain, but has vast untapped potential and surplus capacity on the marine highways which could be better used (and which would be much cheaper to maintain than conventional highways). For example, in Europe Port-Hopper ships, providing a bus-stop service for customers, are a familiar sight. In Germany a new ship shuttle service has recently started between Bremerhaven and Hamburg. In Britain, Clydeport Shipping provides a container feeder ship service for local manufacturers located on the west coast. Laden and empty containers are collected at Greenock, Liverpool and Belfast, on vessels capable of carrying 208 TEUs, for onward delivery to the deep-sea port of Southampton, where they are transferred for export via the new generation of jumbo 8,000 TEU container ships.

The operation is also done in

reverse where import containers

are collected from Southampton

for onward delivery to west coast

ports. Clydeport is seeking to

expand the services to Dublin and

the upper reaches of the

Manchester Ship Canal, thereby

providing an essential and real

door-to-door logistics service. A

similar operation is occurring on

the east coast where a container

feeder ship service operates

between Felixstowe and PD Tees

Port, Middlesbrough. PD Tees has

recently invested £20M to create a

second container terminal as part

of an on going commitment to

bring forth shipping into the

North-east. The company

maintains that considerable

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