Helsinki-Uusimaa Regional Council, Scandria Alliance & CPMR Baltic Sea Commission organized joint conference in Helsinki 6-7th Nov 2023 in order to discuss the future of transport in changing geopolitical landscape. On behalf of LIMOWA, it was a pleasure to join the event, meet people and hear discussions. It was very nice to see a large number of participants not only from Finland, but also neighboring countries around Baltic Sea up to Hamburg, Germany including Norway. This article is not a deep analysis o the event or topic, but merely intuitive thoughts, questions opened, and opinions clarified and concluded during the event. The target is not to say any critics to the event, but to bring part into further discussion. Oppositely, good presentations and other discussions with people involved, gave a very nice overview into ongoing issues.
Freight transport issues are very crucial for the competitiveness of companies and for the whole society, and it nice to see the discussion of importance of (regional) corridors (and their link to Pan-European Scandinavian-Mediterranean and North Sea – Baltic Sea respectively). During this autumn, LIMOWA has been involved in discussion with for example with Bothnian Arc (BusinessOulu), Vaasa-Umeå green shipping corridor (also presented in this conference), and RailBaltica, which may all be good add-ons to geographical links represented in this event here in Helsinki. On panel discussion there was a note ”take a look to North”, and we are seeing lots of developments there requiring developed and sustainable transportation systems, instead of only developing transportation inside and out of growing capital regions.
In the presentation by Stefan Breitenbach( from Hamburg) was noted the ”Deutschland-Takt”, which was also in discussion three months ago in UIRR’s workshop in Gothenburg; how to integrate the Nordic transportation systems into Central European one through Fehmarn Belt tunnel – and how to integrate the development activities in Finnish system into these steps in other parts of Europe? The speech also included perspective on the capacity needed the both in passanger and freight side. Hamburg is a big node in the both, and particularly for us as a logistics cluster, there are lots of issues related to harbor and particularly the role of railway there, which we can learn more together with actors there and Logistik Initiative Hamburg collecting them together.
Digitalization was noted several times, and the name of the event included ”changing geopolitical landscape”, but still one question is, that has our focus and emphasis changed from ”double shift” into sustainability and resilience? Of course the both include digital issues, but is digitalization forgotten little bit to stay behind now?
On the other hand, AI is coming very quickly – and accelerating digitalization further. And although we are discussing now heavily on cleaner fuels & fleet, digitalization may bring a partial solution to more sustainable, efficient and competitive transportation towards the Physical Internet vision (thanks ETP ALICE for sharing this vision and creating roadmap toward zero-emission logistics based on it). Of course fleet and energy are included in those roadmaps too, but the question now in changing geopolitical situation is, that are energy issues highlighted too much? Energy and emissions are crucial, but are we creating next problems if only focusing on clener fuels and new fleet; are EVs finally a solution – or the next problem? In any case, we will keep energy issues on board in the future also, but not to forget the vision of the Physical Internet.
It is important, that transportation system was/is able to adapt to changing geopolitical landscape, but it maybe as important to sustain the clear vision including the both digitalization and sustainablity issues – which walk hand-in-hand. As an example (below), empty driving in road freight transportation is decreasing during the last 15 years, but very slowly. Good thing is, that the development now has been positive, becaus the first decade of 2000s it was not. According the Eurostat database, in EU-27 up to 38% of tasks and 25% of vehicle kilometers are still done without cargo. This is bad for both economy and sustainability. Digitalization will provide an opportunity here.
But coming back to main themes of the conference, infrastructure and corridors are needed. One special issue there for LIMOWA could be specifically intermodal nodes. We must link regions and routes here around BSR into multimodal TEN-T core network corridors (continue the work) which eventually leads then to both competitiveness and sustainablity. And digitalization is needed to combine regional flows in nodal points and making modal shift possible to be transported along corridors by the most sustainable transportation mode.
And finally, although geopolitics has changed the needs in every country, the influences here in Eastern/North Eastern part of BSR are the largest. Instead of looking this as a specific situation and trying to find out short term regional (or national) solutions (such as W&D adjustments), long-term Pan-European vision is needed now even more than before. One practical task to be done, could be a macro-level freight transport system model, which may open the bigger picture to all of us in way, that we can discuss and then make decisions needed. A much bigger – and a totally different issue – is an opportunity to have a Federal EU budget, which requires a separate article and analysis. Prior that, let’s utilize CEF funding together in order to enhance transport infrastructure here in BSR by cutting off existing bottlenecks (without creating new ones).