In order to achieve global climate targets, transport should increasingly be shifted to the railways. This well-intentioned resolution is facing numerous obstacles at present: for example, there are no free slots for new rail products and many political announcements are not followed by actions. HHLA rail subsidiary METRANS is also grappling with this situation. In the following interview, Metrans Group CEO Peter Kiss acknowledges the company’s responsibility for climate-friendly transport. However, he also addresses current challenges and emphasises that the appropriate conditions must be created.
Climate change will be one of the biggest challenges in the coming years, and METRANS wants to be part of the solution. How does the company intend to do that?
Under the current condition, freight transport can only function in a climate-friendly manner on rails because other technical solutions have not yet been fully developed. Therefore, we as a rail and intermodal company carry great responsibility, and we are aware of that.
However, we feel a bit abandoned in the implementation of this mission. That is because the circle of companies with which we want to share this responsibility is still too small. For example, very few customers booked our HHLA Pure sustainable product for climate-neutral transport between ports and hinterland following its market launch in 2019. We certainly did not hear anyone say “hooray, I want that”
That means that there are a number of obstacles on the way to climate neutrality?
Looking at the current developments affecting energy prices, I have my doubts regarding whether we will be able to reach climate targets. The prices for traction energy have increased dramatically – in some countries by 100 percent and in Hungary apparently by as much as 300 percent. We cannot accept this. Now, it is up to politicians to enact the appropriate measures.
Despite this, we continue to hold onto our goal of transporting more goods in a climate-neutral way. We are committed to this mission even if HHLA Pure costs us three to four times more in 2022.
The European political sphere is expecting a transport revolution. Have the rails been firmly established when it comes to the statutory framework and financial subsidies?
Many political actors have not yet understood the potential offered by rail transport. We aren’t just talking about sustainability here. For example, rail was the only mode of transport that also managed to reliably fulfil its supply mandate during the crisis. In order to keep this going in the future, politicians need to create the necessary framework conditions – both on a domestic level and across the EU. We need regulations to subsidise train paths and extensive support for combined transport that equally benefits all companies. The transport revolution can only be realised if we truly focus on railways.
At present I am under the impression that only the bigger players in the markets and their problems are being addressed. In contrast, smaller companies as well as some associations have to be very loud in order for their demands to be heard. Even these smaller companies play a part, and we would like to find more resonance with politicians in this area.
“Costs must be attractive enough for shippers to readily shift to railway transport. At present, the railway network is still not in a condition to compete with roads.”
You mentioned combined transport. What must be done so that it can meet the high expectations placed on it as soon as possible?
The costs for combined transport must be attractive enough for shippers to readily shift to railway transport. For that, the costs for road transport must be adjusted considerably – possibly in proportion to carbon emissions. Railway transport is much better positioned in this area, but that is not reflected in the price.
Especially in Germany, the shift in the transport of goods to rail is being widely discussed. But how is that supposed to actually work if there are no more free slots for new rail products? In the area of continental transport, we struggle with increasing costs and lacking capacities. At present, performers on rails need to constantly look for new solutions in order to ensure stable operations. The railway network is still not in a condition to compete with roads.
What would network operators in Europe be able to change on their own?
I feel a bit sorry for network operators. Politicians are setting the course, and network operators must then ensure that all transport companies get the opportunity to use the rails however they need them. Ideally on the best rail routes, and without detours. Furthermore, passenger transport in Germany is still prioritised over goods transport. Is the transport of goods not that important?
Another complaint is that rail transport is not fast enough compared to road transport. Now, we hear that freight traffic needs to travel at a minimum speed of 100 km/h and “only” wait for 15 minutes at border crossings. We completely support that. But I doubt that the announcement will be followed by action because it still is not yet clear how this promise should be realised.
Who should drive the change?
I think that we all need to work together on the entire system. Operators and haulage operators are also being somewhat left to their own devices. Everyone offers certain partial solutions, but otherwise nothing happens. Only by means of an improved entire system will we be able to reliably continue to do our jobs in the future.
The entire system would also include shippers, forwarders and shipping companies. Do you see the willingness to implement changes on their part?
Yes, the fragility of supply chains set some things in motion in this area. We all deal with constant disruptions, which start at sea with the arrival of ships. This means we need to include shipping companies. The situation at some ports must also be improved because there are often numerous construction sites along the rail network and jammed delivery roads.
We are not going through challenging times because of the coronavirus pandemic – globalisation, digitalisation and climate change pose drastic challenges for the entire system with regard to stability and reliability. We must all be aware of the advantages that rail transport offers. The majority of METRANS customers has already understood this. And we will step up our efforts in order to continue to meet the growing expectations of our customers with the highest quality in the future.