GENOA HOME AND DRY
A mixture of chronic city and commercial traffic. A situation that is par for the course in Italy’s ports because they have stood for centuries in the centre of our coastal cities and are accustomed to tight spaces. Separating commercial and city traffic has become essential, not only to improve the quality of life in our cities, but also to enable our economy to return to being competitive
ON THE ONE SIDE there’s Genoa, a city besieged every year by over 3,000 trucks that every day head for the wharfs at Voltri and Sampierdarena. On the other side, there’s the manufacturing fabric of northern Italy that prefers to use the distant ports of North Europe for 40% of its exports rather than depend on our ports (the figure comes from Rino Canavese, chairman of the Savona Port Authority) Why? The infrastructures - just for a change. Like those of the port of Genoa: wharfs of inadequate dimensions, insufficient road, not to mention railway, connections. The result is a mixture of chronic city and commercial traffic. A situation that is par for the course in Italy’s ports because they have stood for centuries in the centre of our coastal cities and are accustomed to tight spaces. In Rotterdam, Antwerp, Bremen and Hamburg, commercial ports are located in the outskirts of the city in industrial zones facing the sea. Separating commercial and city traffic has become essential, not only to improve the quality of life in our cities, but also to enable our economy to return to being competitive.
There is a solution. Set up in 2003, the Fondazione Slala brought local entities in Liguria and Piedmont together with a single aim: bring goods – quickly and by rail – over the Apennines. So that trucks would converge in specialized logistical areas with roads and space, in other words, the province of Alessandria. “To achieve this aim” – explained Alessandro Repetto, president of the Province of Genoa and the Fondazione Slala – “investments had to be made in three directions: in the ports of Liguria; in road and rail connections; and in the interports of Piedmont”.
For the expansion of the ports “at Genoa”, the chairman of the Port Authority, Luigi Merlo, explained, “the filling in of Calata Bettolo and the area between the Ronco and Canepa bridges is going ahead full steam. The new spaces will be ready in 2014 and will enable the port of Genoa to handle over 4 million TEUs (the unit of cargo capacity, ed.) compared with the current 2 million”. Practically a record for a Mediterranean port. And Savona isn’t sleeping either: “The work on the Maersk platform at Vado Ligure” – said Port Authority chairman Rino Canavese – “began last year and will be completed in 2015, so the port will be able to handle over 1 million TEUs compared with 170,000 in 2011”.
But trains are needed to get the goods over the Apennines. This is why it is essential to build a third pass, the stretch of high-speed railway line that will cross the Apennines and connect the port of Genoa with the Lombardy plain and, in the future, the markets of central Europe. The laying of the foundation stone for this work took place at the end of 2009. “Immediately after the inauguration” – Repetto said – “a disagreement between the general contractor COCIV (the consortium formed by Impregilo, Condotte d’Acqua, Ferfina and CIV) and the railways (RFI) put a stop to the work before it could begin. The matter was resolved only at the end of last year. Now the work can start in earnest: it is a matter of days”. But there is someone who has other ideas about how to get the containers to the port of Genoa in the province of Alessandria. Bruno Musso, ship owner and chairman of the Grendi group, has a bee in his bonnet: the Bruco, a continuous cycle conveyor belt that would move the containers from Voltri to an area across the Apennines. A futuristic idea that, according to the ship owner, would very quickly take the port of Genoa to 10 million TEUs. But the technical complexity of the work and the high cost (€ 3.5 billion, but less than the third pass) make it “a work that is still to be programmed”, according to chairman Luigi Merlo.
Once across the Apennines, where do the goods arrive? The initial idea of the Fondazione Slala, headed until 2010 by none other than Fabrizio Palenzona, Unicredit’s second in command, was to turn the present wharf at Alessandria into a mega intermodal terminal. “An idea that is too Alessandria-centred and has the considerable financial problem of finding €45 million of the €90 million that would have to come from private investors”, stated Slala chairman Alessandro Repetto. “What we are aiming at now is a series of connections with existing, but improved, logistics platforms: like the interports at Rivalta Scrivia, but also at Novara and Mortara. Without forgetting Alessandria, where the new terminal should be built, even if it is smaller”.
A strategy destined to remain on paper? Not exactly, given that at the Rivalta Scrivia interport investments are being made in the Rivalta Terminal Europa, a project that envisages transporting containers by train from the port of Genoa to the Tortona interport. With customs operations carried out at Rivalta and not at Genoa. “The project” – explained Roberto Arghemini, managing director of Rivalta Terminal Europa – “provides for the creation of a 1.2-metre-square area in three stages. The first, completed at the end of 2011, is already operational: six trains a day (in both directions) between Rivalta and the platform at Genoa-Voltri have an annual capacity of 220,000 TEUs. And other connections with Savona and La Spezia have also begun. With the result that about 300 trucks a day collect or deliver containers here and not at Genoa. And it’s much quicker, too – a maximum of one hour – compared with the difficulties frequently encountered near the wharfs”. The second and third modules “will have to wait because of the current financial situation. But we are counting on starting soon”. Arghemini placed particular emphasis on speed. After the container is unloaded, it reaches Rivalta in 24 hours at the most, thanks to the procedures that Genoa Customs carries out here and not at the port. Of course, the present railway lines don’t help: the tunnels are too low so we have to use lower wagons. The length is 450 metres but in order to be really competitive with road transport it should be at least 700. In present conditions and without technical problems, rail transport through the Giovi pass costs the same as road transport. But it will take more to be competitive: the third pass, for example”. Without forgetting, lastly, the road infrastructures. The Gronda autostradale di Ponente – which would allow cars and trucks to bypass Genoa – “is in danger of being halted in view of proposals by Marco Doria (SEL), the centre-left candidate for mayor of the city. “But La Gronda” – Alessandro Repetto concluded – “must go ahead. Autostrade per l’Italia is making a few changes to the project and I think that the work could begin as early as the end of 2012”.