Port of Antwerp on the way to rail future

2021/09/06 at 11:20 AM

The future is rail as the Antwerp Port Authority believes. To this end, it intends to significantly reduce the number of trucks for moving freight to or from the maritime terminals. As a result, the share of rail transport in Europe’s second-largest container port will increase from 7 to 15 per cent by 2030. And this is not the limit.

The modal shift is not a quick win but a long-term strategy for the Antwerp Port Authority that requires too much work to do. In this regard, large investments in the modernisation and development of tracks in the port area and on the lines running to it are being carried out by Infrabel, the Belgian rail infrastructure manager. Only at the beginning of the year, the state-owned specialist allocated 4 million euros for this purpose.

Freight trains in the Port of Antwerp, source: Antwerp Port Authority

Meanwhile, the terminal operators, rail freight carriers, freight forwarders and even shipping lines have joined forces for arranging more container trains and new routes for them. This is about dozens of new initiatives. Just one remarkable example. 36 freight train connections were launched to/from the Port of Antwerp in a period from November 2020 to June 2021. As a result, the freight traffic was intensified between the Belgian harbour and six European countries (Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain).

Currently, up to 130 trains per day arrive or dispatch from the Port of Antwerp towards numerous destinations in 20 countries. Of course, the mentioned achievements are just the intermediate results and the Antwerp Port Authority still has enough tasks to do. How will it achieve the share of 15 per cent for rail transport?

Seven pillars

The rail future of the Belgian largest port is based on seven pillars. Here are they:

  1. optimum management of traffic flows at the port across the entire logistics chain;
  2. high-performance parking policy for efficient use of available rail capacity;
  3. operating the Antwerp North marshalling yard in a neutral manner together with combining volumes;
  4. targeted investments in various port areas with the highest growth potential;
  5. efficient use of rail infrastructure;
  6. separate framework for regulation and port-specific rail policy;
  7. common digital platform for the mutual exchange of information in compliance with competition rules.
Let’s modal shift together: Port of Antwerp, Infrabel and Railport jointly promote modal shift, source: Antwerp Port Authority

As we can see, the above mentioned intermediary results are the expressions of these pillars. In the coming years, we can expect much more achievements in this regard. At the same time, the Antwerp Port Authority is not regarding the pillars as a constant policy. “Its implementation is an ongoing project that can be adapted and adjusted, if necessary, in constructive consultation with all stakeholders,” the body states.


Another efficacious tool for the modal shift is to arrange partnerships with the parties concerned. For instance, the seven rail pillars were developed and adjusted together with Infrabel and Railport, the association that represent the companies active at the port. This policy was clearly described by Port Alderman Annick De Ridder earlier this year: “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 vision into a success really is a milestone”.

Loading a freight train in the Port of Antwerp, source: Lineas

On the other hand, the cooperation policy promoted by the Antwerp Port Authority stimulates the terminal operators, shipping lines and other parties to establish joint or multimodal connections. Most of the rail freight services to/from the Port of Antwerp are carried out by Lineas and DB Cargo on behalf of the shipping lines or terminal operators. In February Lineas connected Vienna South intermodal terminal in Austria with MSC PSA European Terminal (MPET) in Antwerp. The new joint services are also offered by the inland shipping lines that deliver containers with barges. However, this is an issue for another story.

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