Busy port of Antwerp
© Rudmer Zwerver

Increasing barge and rail activity has become a central pillar of the growth trajectory at the port of Antwerp-Bruges, following the 2022 merger of the ports of Antwerp and Zeebrugge.

For the Belgian gateway, barge and rail flows are no novelty – less than 50% of its volumes are transported by road – but amid the global push to reduce emissions in supply chains, the port’s management team believe further improvements can be made.

Speaking to The Loadstar on the sidelines of last week’s Multimodal event in Birmingham, the port’s representative for the UK & Ireland, Justin Atkin, said: “The majority of cargo is transported by barge and rail, but we want to increase volumes using sustainable modes of transport.

“Our team has been working hard to develop several markets, with a particular emphasis on Polish and other Central European volumes, looking to encourage shippers there to migrate from trucks.”

Mr Atkin recognises that the ease of using haulage will make the transition to barge and rail a challenge for some, but he believes that, if the industry is serious about cutting emissions, it must “get creative”.

He continued: “One thing we think can help is to develop infrastructure that supports a more multimodal approach; for instance, with more than 1000km of rail track on the port platforms, we have already seen a major Austrian transport and logistics provider adopt a ‘trailer train’ model.”

This sees trucks used for legs of the journey where rail tracks simply do not exist, or where trucking becomes more efficient. Thereafter, the haulier detaches the trailer from the truck and loads it onto a train for the remainder of the journey. Overall, it significantly reduces road miles.

“Given that hauliers have begun chartering their own trains to do this, there is confidence that there is a consistency of volumes to make it a viable operating model,” added Mr Atkin.

“So, we are looking at countries such as Poland for this, but there are other potential markets we believe this could work for, like Hungary and Turkey. And this is where the vast connectivity of our ports in Antwerp and Zeebrugge to the hinterland offers significant advantages to shippers and logistics providers”.

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