AUSTRIA: Rail Cargo Group has ambitious plans for expansion in 2023 despite the extraordinarily crisis-ridden year the rail freight sector has faced in 2022, according to ÖBB CEO Andreas Matthä.
Presenting RCG’s plans for the coming year on November 21, Matthä highlighted challenges including drastic increases in energy prices and the disruption to global supply chains caused by the Russian war against Ukraine, as well as the ongoing effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
He expressed pride in the rail sector’s efforts to get vital grain out of Ukraine, with RCG alone having transported 1 million tonnes between March and October. However, he stressed that 20 million tonnes needed moving, and space had to be created to store the next harvest.
Muck and brass
In its home market, RCG is investing €75m to handle an increase in traffic which is expected when a new Austrian waste management act comes into force in January. This is expected to double the overall movement of waste from 8 million to 15 million tonnes/year.
Orders have been placed for 1 220 Mobiler containers designed for easy sideways transfer between lorries and trains, and 400 intermodal wagons to carry them.
‘We will then be able to shift more and more waste transport from road to rail’, Matthä explained.
What Matthä described as the world’s first duty-free rail corridor is to be launched next year, linking the Italian port of Trieste to a dry port at Villach which is expected to become a gateway into the EU for goods from all over the world.
‘This project is of great importance to us’, he said, explaining that direct delivery of freight by rail from the port meant that in effect ‘Villach will be located by the sea’. This would help to increase rail’s market share.
RCG CEO Clemens Först reported that OBB’s freight business has overtaken PKP Cargo in the last year to become Europe’s second biggest rail logistics provider, behind Deutsche Bahn. It is also targeting growth in the Eurasian market.
‘Systemic relevance is the buzzword of the year’, he said. ‘We are the sustainable logistics backbone of the Austrian and European economy, and we are investing intensively in the expansion of our network — in the direction of China and increasingly in the Balkans.’
RCG is to open a wholly-owned marking subsidiary in Shanghai in January, in order to support further development of Eurasian freight traffic. It will have a particular focus on the Middle Corridor through Central Asia and the Caucasus, avoiding Russia.
RCG organised 700 China – Europe trains in 2021. Traffic is still moving via Russia where it is legally permitted under the international sanctions imposed following the February attack on Ukraine, but Först said there was growing interest in the Middle Corridor although costs are around 15% higher than via the Trans-Siberian route.
Another subsidiary is to be established in Beograd, and from the second quarter of 2023 Serbia will become the 13th European country where RCG operates using its own locomotives and staff.
As well as serving Serbian customers, this move is intended to boost the development of RCG’s traffic to Turkey and Greece, offering an alternative to current routes via Romania. RCG currently runs 20 trains a week to Turkey, but engineering works can cause problems and alternative routes will provide greater resilience.
Energy cost volatility is a significant issue for RCG, and with its customers facing a significant increase in prices the operator plans to separate out the energy costs in its billing to make the reason clear.
‘As an energy-intensive company, we are affected by massive price jumps on the energy market and therefore have to pass on our additional costs to our customers’, Först explained. ‘This step is unavoidable in light of the current developments coupled with a traditionally low-margin industry, but it is being taken transparently and fairly in co-ordination with each and every one of our customers.’
Levelling the playing field
Calling for a cap on traction energy costs and a permanent reduction in access charges, Matthä and Först stressed the need for a fair competitive environment, highlighting discrepancies in the allocation of external costs.
‘Rail freight transport is the basic prerequisite for achieving climate protection goals’, said Matthä. ‘To achieve the necessary turnaround, however, we need fair cost transparency in the transport sector. In Austria alone, external costs including noise, congestion and accident costs are three times higher for trucks than for rail. Yet these costs are not borne by the polluters, but by the taxpayers. Something urgently needs to change here — not only for those paying, but also for the railways and thus for the climate.’