Intermodal transport is one of the most important elements of the modern logistics industry, growing rapidly in recent years. The location of Poland on the main trade routes in Europe has played a special role in the development of this sector. Thanks to this, we have become a natural hub in the development of intermodal transport.
The challenge we are facing is a reduction in market activity as a result of the global economic slowdown. This might encourage entrepreneurs to look for savings, including choosing cheaper and more traditional methods of transport.
However, as history shows, it is precisely in difficult times that many industries and companies undergo periods of dynamic development. Intermodal transport might turn out to be a solution contributing to the optimisation of logistics costs.
Therefore, the question is – will the recession really stop the development of intermodal transport in Poland or, on the contrary, will it be an opportunity for further development?
Intermodal transport in Poland
Intermodal transport is a transport system that uses various types of transport: road, rail, sea, air. In Poland, it has been developing dynamically over the last few years. While it still represents a small part of the market compared to Western Europe, in recent years there has been a growing interest in this model, mainly due to its economic and ecological benefits. According to data from the Central Statistical Office, in the years 2010-2020 the number of transported tonnes of goods in intermodal transport in Poland increased by over 50%. In 2020, over 3.3 million tonnes of goods were transported, which accounted for about 2% of all freight transport in the country.
Companies choose this mode of transport because of its efficiency, sustainability and ability to cope with environmental challenges. Growing demand makes logistics companies more and more willing to invest in intermodal infrastructure, e.g. transshipment terminals or intermodal transport management systems.
Recession and intermodal transport
The difficulties we have been facing recently are the symptoms of a recession: decreasing consumption and production, which naturally leads to a decrease in demand for transport services. As a result, competition in the transport industry is increasing, which can lead to lower prices of transport services and to price competition devastating the industry. This situation may negatively affect the profitability of many transport companies.
Another problem is the volatility of the markets and the related unavailability of capital for fleet development and investments in new technologies. Financial barriers may adversely affect the development of intermodal transport infrastructure. Supply chain management is also becoming a challenge as it is more complicated than traditional models, and companies need to plan and control transport costs more carefully.
According to a Central Statistical Office report from 2022, Poland had a total of 35 active intermodal terminals, including four handling sea-rail, sea-road shipments (sea terminals) and 31 handling rail-road shipments (land terminals). A total of 84.2 million tonnes of containerised freight was handled at intermodal terminals, an increase of 2.7% compared to the previous year.
On the other hand, the Office of Rail Transport reports that from January to March 2023, rail carriers transported 5.8 million tonnes of freight as part of intermodal transport, which is equal to nearly 625,000 TEU. In the same period in 2022, intermodal rail transport amounted to 6.6 million tonnes, which means a decrease in tonnage of over 12%. A slightly smaller decrease, over 11%, occurred in the number of containers transported.
The potential of intermodal transport
The data may not be very optimistic, but regardless of the decline, intermodal transport in Poland has potential.
An important factor is the location of our country. Poland is an important transshipment point on trade routes between Western and Eastern Europe, as well as between the north and south, connecting Scandinavia and the Baltic States with the Balkans and Turkey. This allows for international transport even in times of economic slowdown.
The country continues to invest in infrastructure, which may make the sector more resilient to recession. Investments in railways, seaports and roads, leading to new connections between different modes of transport, will certainly contribute to the development of intermodal transport. One advantage of intermodal transport is that it is more flexible than other forms of transport. It can adapt to changing market conditions, reducing operating costs when needed.
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the negative impact on the environment are important goals even during a recession. Intermodal transport is much greener than road transport and can therefore attract companies that care about sustainable development. Education and promotion of intermodal transport will undoubtedly be helpful. Education can help break down resistance to change and convince companies that intermodal transport can be an effective strategy for difficult times.
A note of hope
The current economic recession is having a negative impact on many sectors. However, intermodal transport in Poland has several features that can help it survive. Flexibility, pro-ecological character and developing infrastructure allow for an attractive alternative for logistics companies in search of efficient transport solutions.
Therefore, although the recession will bring some challenges, it is not certain that the development of intermodal transport in Poland will stop. In fact, it can be an opportunity for further growth and development of innovation in this sector.