Defining future: four key factors for development of intermodal transport in Poland

2021/10/22 at 9:35 AM

There is much talk in Poland about impressive figures in moving containers by rail. New Silk Road is one of the key impetuses of the process. However, there is much work to do for maintaining this growth. That was the main topic for the second day of the conference “Railway border crossings – a key to export and transit” taking place on 20-22 October in Janów Podlaski.

“The last decade, 2011-2020, was a period of intermodal transport in Poland. Every next year, if we are talking about statistics, was better than the previous. Freight volumes increased fourfold, transport performance threefold, the number of companies in the market threefold,” such a description of the development of intermodal transport was delivered by Michał Jaworski, head of the department for analysis at Poland’s Office for Rail Transport (UTK). What about the future? That was a key topic of the final session of the conference jointly organised by the editorial office of IntermodalNews.pl and the ProKolej Foundation. Below you can find some excerpts from that discussion.

Track Access Charges (TACs)

DB Cargo Polska, the second-largest rail freight operator in Poland, is continuing to insist on reducing the track access charges in the country. “Railway needs to remove discriminatory barriers. To my opinion, such a barrier is the track access charges,” Marek Staszek, CEO of DB Cargo Polska, started the final discussion of the conference. This issue became crucial in 2020 when the railway sector faced serious challenges due to coronavirus. Some European states including France and Germany declared their plans to significantly reduce the track access charges.

The discussion at the conference “Railway border crossings – a key to export and transit”, source: IntermodalNews

As for Germany, its parliament almost removed this kind of fee, namely reduced them by 98 per cent, starting from March 2020 for rail freight operators. PKP PLK, Poland’s rail infrastructure manager, decided not to increase TACs in March 2021. However, the Polish intermodal sector looks precisely at the German example and, surely, wants at least similar opportunities as its counterparts in the neighbouring country.

Lack of connectivity

The development of intermodal transport is impossible without linking ports and rails. Michał Stupak, account manager at the Port of Gdańsk Authority, dedicated his speech to the connectivity between the largest Polish port and the hinterland. According to him, the Port of Gdańsk is highly interested in arranging rail freight connections with the eastern border, not only with Małaszewicze, but also with other small intermodal terminals in northeastern Poland.

Unfortunately, the actual situation is quite different. Most of the freight volumes from the region are being moved to Gdańsk via Warsaw instead of using the shorter direct routes and, furthermore, the region with several border crossings can’t offer reliable options for moving transit containers from China. “I just don’t see enough investments and development opportunities that could be an alternative to Małaszewicze,” Michał Stupak summed up.

Electrical energy

Krzysztof Pietrzyk, a member of the management board of CTL Logistics Group, emphasised another challenge for the future of intermodal transport in Poland. In this regard, there are two issues: the price of energy for rail and sources of energy. On the one hand, Poland has cheaper energy than in Western Europe. On the other hand, it is mostly generated by coal power plants. Within the European Green Deal, Poland must switch its energy sector to renewable sources. And it is unclear what the price will be after this as the process requires huge investments.

Container train of CTL Logistics in Poland, source: CTL Logistics

Geopolitical issues

One more thing that should be noted is the geopolitical factors. For instance, Marek Staszek from DB Cargo Polska highlighted the role of the Chinese economy in the development of intermodal transport in Poland. “China has been growing for many years. And we thought that this growth will be unlimited. Now, China is faced with barriers to growth. The current dynamics of the Chinese economy does not allow us to make any forecasts for further development,” said CEO of DB Cargo Polska.

At the same time, Michał Stupak mentioned the political and economic tensions between China and the US. According to him, the Chinese invest in the New Silk Road to secure an alternative to the sea-based supply chains. “Currently, the maritime transport dominates in moving freight between China and Europe. If there is some escalation in the China-US relations, we could suggest that the role of the New Silk Road will increase,” he said. That’s why the Port of Gdańsk, like many other harbours in Europe, is developing not only the shipping services to China but the rail freight connections too.

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