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In the run-up to tomorrow’s TOC Container Supply Chain Europe, conference editor Neil Madden talks to Alexandre Gallo, VP Intermodal Group at CMA CGM

TOC: What are the major challenges facing port-hinterland interconnectivity in relation to container logistics chain execution?

AG: There are three key factors in executing intermodal flows from the maritime gateway into the hinterland: firstly, cost; secondly, cost; and thirdly, cost! I would say there are qualitative differences in Europe between more intermodal-friendly markets, such as in Benelux and Germany, and less developed markets, like France, Italy, the UK, etc. In northern Europe, generally, it is not a big deal to move containers by rail long distances from the maritime terminal to inland platforms or distribution points. Conversely, in countries such as France and the UK infrastructure investment has not kept pace with volume growth and this is now hampering the development of large-scale, competitive intermodal transport because lack of physical capacity constrains the number of new entrants into the market.

However, this is not say there is perfect competition in Benelux and Germany. Particularly when one considers the market power of, say, Deutsche Bahn and the fact that it is, or until very recently was, a major shareholder in many of the smaller ‘independent’ rail operators. Consequently, while there is good coverage and frequency, rates are not so interesting.

What concrete actions and innovations could improve this situation?

Apart from greater ‘genuine’ competition in rail operations, I would like to see more common user facilities located near to a number of marine terminals. There are not many carriers with the critical mass to fill block trains on their own, so it makes more sense to have common user facilities that can serve a number of terminals taking containers from a variety of carriers and vessels for onward distribution to various inland platforms. But for this to become reality we need frequency. At least one train a day I would say, that way the shipper is comfortable that if vessel berthing is delayed, his container will still make the next day’s train. Two or three trains per week simply isn’t enough.

What is on your wish list from your supply chain partners?

Shippers want low cost and reliability, terminals want carriers and carriers want volumes, that much is true. But everyone now has a role to play in the wider issue of supply chain collaboration and execution.