Container and intermodal transport is growing fast in Europe, both on sea and on land. The Alpine Region, located at the crossroads between northern and southern Europe, is hugely affected by these flows. That is why AG4 commissioned a preparatory study to investigate the possibility of action to optimise multi-modal logistic chains in the Alpine Region, with particular focus on the flows of empty containers due to imbalances in trade in the area.
The collected data showed increasing maritime and inland containerised flows and aggregate imbalances, with a continental scope for maritime flows and with a national scope for inland flows. Data from EUROSTAT indicates that much of railway traffic concerning the EUSALP countries is actually inter-modal and that there is still potential for a shift from road to rail or, where possible, to inland waterways. Data on transport flows in the main ports and terminals as well as intermodal connections between them can be accessed via a dedicated online geodatabase.
Causes of the lack or excess of empty containers
Container imbalances may occur for several reasons, and most often due to a combination of them. A lack of containers occurs when exporters from a region cannot find suitable containers in the quantity they need and, hence, have to import them with no load. An excess of containers occurs when containers imported with a load do not have to return loads. They then have to either be kept in storage until a load is found or sent away empty. In practice, there may be a lack or an excess of containers, or both at the same time in the same area for different traffic flows and different types of containers. Challenges and solutions were discussed at four regional dialogue events with logistics stakeholders and public authorities in selected study areas (Novara and the west of Lombardy, Basel and Freiburg, Tyrol, Veneto).
Empty container management requires a wider look at inermodal transport
The study suggests a number of methods to deal with imbalances of empty containers and empty container storage. Flows of empty containers often depend on several concurring factors, and in some cases imbalances are due to the structure of the trade into and out of an area. To gain a better understanding of the flows of empties, it is thus recommended to take on a comprehensive perspective. A wider look at inter-modal transport is required, including trade, regional economics and transport. AG4, in its multi-stakeholder role, canserve as a platform to further promote regional opportunities for exchange on logistics solutions that affect the entire Alpine Region.
The study has been commissioned by the AG4 Leader European Region Tyrol-South Tyrol-Trentino / Land Tyrol, Department of Transport Planning.
The main editors of the study Maurizio Arnone and Andrea Rosa of LINKS Foundation (Turin).