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Container Transport via Northern Seaports into Central Europe is Efficient

Date: 10/11/2011

Research conducted by the independent research agency, NEA indicates that the northern seaports offer the most efficient route for container transport into a large part of the central European hinterland. Seven ports located in the North of Europe have four times the container throughput of the principal eleven ports competing along the Southern coastline of Europe. The analysis concludes that the distribution patterns underlying these shares is efficient, and is explained by a persistent combination of economic and geographical factors. The analysis was carried out on behalf of the Ports of Antwerp, Rotterdam and Hamburg. 

Five main factors determine the efficiency of the current situation 
1. First, cargo generation and attraction rates are higher in the Northern Continent. The distribution of economic activity suggests a natural split of 70% within the Northern half. 

2. Secondly, Europe’s physical geography strengthens the position of the Northern ports. The Alps and the Rhine waterways form a natural barrier and a natural corridor respectively, extending the catchment area of the Northern ports towards Switzerland and Austria. 

These two factors, volume and terrain, have assisted in the development of high capacity, low cost intermodal corridors being developed from the Northern range. 

3. Thirdly, scale economies in the maritime networks linked to the North European ports extend their competitive hinterlands further to the South. Deployment of large container vessels is lowering costs between Northern ports and the Far East. Clustering of activity, scale economies and deep water at the North European main-ports permits the use of ships with the lowest unit costs available. 

4. Fourthly, the ability of the Northern main ports to combine transhipment and hinterland functions contributes further to the scale effect. 

5. Finally, from an environmental perspective, large container ships are less polluting in terms of CO2 per tonne kilometre. This advantage counts throughout the full 20,000 kilometre journey between China and Western Europe. 

While it might be expected that current distribution patterns are efficient in terms of minimising internal cost, the study shows that including external costs within the optimisation of traffic distribution does not change the picture radically. Both internal and external cost drivers are similar, i.e. distance, modal split, fuel economy, scale and load factors. Considering both internal costs and external costs for a container arriving from the Far East via Suez, the North European ports have an advantage as far as the Southern German border. 

The findings of the study indicate that on the maritime side, market forces are already playing an important role in bringing incentives for low transport costs and lowering carbon emission rates per container unit. It shows that attention must focus on technology, fuels, and load factors as well as port selection. 

Largest volumes in the North, but fastest market growth in the South 
Economic growth in Slovenia, Croatia, and Hungary, resulting from improved infrastructure and economic integration, will foster scale economies in the South, and inland intermodal links towards Hungary will help Adriatic ports to gain share. In the North however, market growth, even under pessimistic growth assumptions is likely to be still strongly positive in absolute terms. Thus there is a continuing need for high capacity multimodal links. 

Future developments on Alpine routes: no extra capacity for maritime traffic 
On the inland side, the study tends to confirm and support the direction of the TEN-T core network policy, with the development of long distance multimodal corridors concentrating the flows between the main gateway ports and the inland centres of population and industry. In future, engineering a significant North to South shift through intervention is limited by the availability and cost of rail infrastructure in the Alpine region. 

The additional rail capacity offered on Transalpine routes (the Mont Cenis, Lötschberg, Gotthard and Brenner) is likely to be needed for capturing road to rail shifts within intra-European flows rather than for reducing maritime traffic around the Atlantic coastline. 

 
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