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Road Transport

As rail traffic drops, the number of trucks running on motorways and containers going through harbors is increasing. Positive figures from export, but the home market is still struggling. From Brennero to Gioia Tauro, figures fuel a well-founded hope.

Massimo Lanari

Good news from the transport sector. Mind you, we are not speaking of the long awaited economic recovery yet, but, for the first time since 2011, the number of transport vehicles on our roads and the number of containers in our harbors and airports have been steadily increasing during 2013 and the first half of 2014. Figures were supplied by Confetra: in total, during 2013 freight traffic has grown by 4.2%. Mostly due to exports, since international transport (+3.4%) has grown more than domestic transport, a lowly 0.8%. Demand for Italian goods (according to ICE figures) has particularly grown in Belgium, Great Britain and East Europe, while it shows a slight fall in France and Germany. A particularly strong growth was recorded by cargo transported by national couriers (+ 1.5%) and an even better +4% for international couriers. Data from Istat shows an increase in industrial production especially for goods such as foodstuffs, medical drugs, household appliances and iron and steel products. During the second half of the year, good figures were recorded by automobile production and transport. Pitch dark, on the other hand, for textiles and petroleum products.


But what is happening on our roads? According to Aiscat, in the first quarter of 2014 heavy haulage has grown by 0.9% compared to the same period of 2013, the same – limited – growth of the automobile traffic flow. Noteworthy are the traffic records at the Mont Blanc tunnel (+1.2%), at Frejus (+2%), Brennero (+3.2%), on the A4 between Venice and Trieste (+3.9%) and at Ventimiglia (+2.3%). A clear sign that international traffic relating to export is showing an encouraging recovery, while at the same time internal demand is still stagnant.


Quite different is the situation in our harbors. In Genoa, until April, 16.2 million tons of cargo were handled, with a slight -1.3% drop compared to 2013. A significant decline was recorded in the mineral oil and dry bulk sectors, while container handling scored an encouraging +3.3%. Yet another sign of the difficulties of the industrial sector in general, while the manufacturing sector shows some signs of recovery. The same trend was observed in Savona (+1.3% general tonnage, +14.4% containers in April 2014), La Spezia (+1% general cargo, +7% containers in 2013), Gioia Tauro ( +14% containers in 2013), Cagliari ( +12.3% containers in 2013), Venice ( -13.2% general cargo, -1.2% containers in April) and Trieste (+4.57% containers in May). A few noteworthy exceptions are: Livorno (+0.6% total cargo, -2.7% containers in the first quarter), Naples (+1.8% total, -15% containers in the first quarter), Taranto ( +16.8% total, -8.4% containers in April), Ancona (+42.5% total, -8.3% containers in April), Ravenna ( +8.7% total, -10.5% containers in February). But these are particular situations, as Naples and Taranto are affected by delays in dredging operations pushing freight giants such as Cosco from China and Evergreen from Taiwan to look for other destinations. Meanwhile Livorno, Ravenna and Ancona are still waiting for the promised upgrading. As a whole, besides an increase in the flow of containers, Confetra notices general consolidation in roll-on roll-off sea-bound traffic, despite the abolition of the so-called Eco-bonus: trucks, trailers and semitrailers travelling on ferries have increased by 0.2%.


Next up, railways, and during 2013 also rail transport has seen a decrease of 5.2%. “The fault, - according to Nereo Marcucci President of Confetra – must be ascribed to the off-market fares imposed by Trenitalia, who is progressively abandoning cargo transport in favor of passenger transport”. And if this were not enough, we must remember that in order to be really competitive, rail transport needs long-distance routes and large quantities of freight, therefore the situation is destined to remain as it is as long as the needed infrastructural investments aren’t made.


We close speaking about airfreight, which has grown by 2.1%, but still remains very marginal. What can we say then? The current cargo transport trend in Italy reflect the serious economic crisis in the country. Yet something could be done: through its strategic position and supported by targeted investments and the right infrastructures Italy could play a pivotal role in International transport. Millions of tons of cargo cross the Mediterranean without stopping in our harbors, preferring North European seaports, better equipped, with better infrastructures, cheaper and less bureaucratic. Do our politicians know this? 

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