European Industrial & Logistics: Growing Global Linkages

In our previous paper, ‘European Industrial & Logistics: A long-term view’, we
took a broad look at the key trends likely to effect Europe’s logistics markets
over the next decade and beyond. In this report we analyse in more depth
Europe’s existing external distribution networks, focusing on infrastructure
developments in air, rail and sea transport and the future prospects for each.
Notably, we present more detail on specific infrastructure developments across
the continent which will prove key in serving the growth of existing trade
routes and the development of new ones. It is very clear that Europe’s
traditional ports (notably those in the Hamburg-Le Havre range) are key in the
efficient transport of large goods between Europe and the other continents. We
look at specific port infrastructure developments, whilst assessing the impacts
of the development of larger container vessels and shifting trade routes. Rail
routes currently play a limited role, but are hampered by a lack of investment
and variable track infrastructure between countries. This report considers the
key issues and the prospects for increased growth in rail transport. Finally,
air routes are well established for the transport of high-value sensitive
goods, but are coming under increasing pressure. The drive to improve the
attribution of environmental costs to the sector is set to have a large impact.
Whilst at the same time the continent’s largest airports are operating at full
capacity and are having problems expanding against a fairly negative
legislative environment.


Nearly 60% of European container tonnage passes through just four ports:
Rotterdam, Antwerp, Bremerhaven and Hamburg. The lion’s share of Hamburg’s
container traffic goes to and from East Asia, with China its biggest trading
partner by far. The prominence of these ports is a result of centuries of
historic trading between Europe, Asia and the Americas. ‘Atlantic European’
locations (the North Sea to be more precise) became the best entry and exit
points for goods traffic. In turn this led to growth in manufacturing and
production, with the highest concentrations of population and GDP in Europe
centred around Belgium, France, Germany, The Netherlands and the UK. No
surprise therefore that these locations dominate logistics activity. In
contrast ports in Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean are considerably smaller
and predominantly focus on localised trade. Excepting, for example, Gioia Tauro
which functions as a transhipment base for Mediterranean shipping.


New sea routes into Europe from Asia mean infrastructure is expanding. On the
Mediterranean and Adriatic Sea for example, large new port facilities allow
container ships taking the Suez Canal route to deliver more directly to Central
and Eastern Europe. Goods reach their destination quicker than if they went via
the Rotterdam or Hamburg routes, with a time advantage of 5-7 days.
Environmental factors also play a key role, with CO2 emissions on the Suez to
Venezia route considerably less than the conventional route to Rotterdam, for
example. Concurrently, the major ports are constantly upgrading their
facilities. This is the result of capacity constraint in places such as
Rotterdam, but also in response to the challenge posed by ever larger container
ships. Container line Maersk has ordered ten huge new container ships that are
longer than a modern aircraft carrier and bulkier than an oil tanker. Measuring
400 metres long, 59 metres wide and 73 metres high, they will be able to carry
18,000 20-foot containers – 2,500 more than the Maersk PS class, currently the
largest container ship afloat.


Despite the dominance of sea routes they are being supplemented by long
distance rail services. By sea, the journey from China takes around 35 days. By
rail the journey takes 20-25 days. For example, new rail services have started
between Antwerp, Europe’s second-largest port, and Chongqing, the industrial
hub located in China’s southwest. Chongqing produces 25 million laptop
computers a year. However, capacity for such services is hindered by current
limitations in rail infrastructure. Notably the inherent inflexibility of rail,
meaning that there will have to be a modal shift from rail to road at some
point in any supply chain. The most significant issue for rail freight capacity
in Europe is different track gauges across national boundaries (see figure 3).
This hampers the efficiency of services through Russia, other CIS countries and
some Baltic States. Because the track gauge is different in China and Western
Europe, time is lost loading containers onto new carriers. For many years the
approach to carrying unitised cargos by rail was to adapt the wagon rather than
the infrastructure. Special low loader wagons were developed that enabled
standard containers to meet loading gauge restrictions in most countries, but
these came with speed restrictions. Gradually, height and width restrictions
have been addressed across the main freight lines, facilitating new “high-cube”
containers with greater capacity. This allows rail freight to compete with sea
freight from a capacity perspective, resulting in transcontinental rail
services that are increasing in frequency and popularity, despite variations in
track gauge. Nevertheless, as long as the physical impediments are in place,
long-distance rail from Asia to Europe is likely to remain only a small part of
the logistics picture. It is, however, forming an increasingly important part
of the logistics network for the internal movement of goods across Europe,
especially for those from Turkey.


Ports aside, the other main entry or exit route for goods is Europe’s
airports. On a monetary value basis the continent’s airports handle around 30%
of goods. However, the focus is on high value low volume, and on a tonnage
basis air routes account for just 1% of extra-EU trade. Airports like Frankfurt
and Heathrow operate at, or close to, capacity. High land prices and congested
airspace are a feature of the largest airports, and many operators have found
that they can function more efficiently using a regional hub. Leipzig/Halle
airport, for example, has grown its freight volume from just over 15,000 tonnes
in 2005 to over 660,000 tonnes in 2010. This growth was helped by investment in
an additional runway, and by DHL’s choice of the airport as a regional hub.
Leipzig is very well connected and the airport has direct motorway and rail
links. As with Europe’s sea ports, its key freight airports are located within
areas of both high manufacturing output and consumer demand. As Eastern Europe
sees an expansion in the scale of its manufacturing and consumer markets we
expect this to put some pressure on, and encourage the development of, air
infrastructure in the region. The big issue for air freight is the EU
commitment to reduce emissions from international aviation. After the verdict
of the European Court of Justice in 2011, the European Commission decided to
proceed with the implementation of the Emissions Trading System from the start
of 2012, which includes aviation. However, the initiative is facing strong
opposition from airlines and a large group of trade-partner countries such as


It is clear that sea freight will remain the dominant mode for Europe’s
external trade for a very long time to come. Other transport modes simply
cannot compete with its scale and efficiency. The key area where we are likely
to see the most growth is within the new port developments in the Eastern
Mediterranean and the Baltic Sea – which are vital in serving Eastern Europe as
it starts to play a bigger part in the global supply chain. That said the major
European ports such as Rotterdam have major expansion plans in place, and with
the development of ever larger cargo ships the ports with the facilities to
handle them will be well placed to increase market share, as trans-continental
sea routes become increasingly concentrated around these select ports. Air
freight is still a key player in external trade. However, the major western
airports are running out of capacity and with opposition mounting against
expansion at the major commercial hubs (e. g. Heathrow), and the environmental
cost of such activity, it is not an area likely to see dramatic growth.
Although given the lack of activity in Eastern Europe’s airports, we may see
some expansion here as the demand for and production of high value goods starts
to increase, as these countries move up the development path. One notable area
for growth — or at least an area where the EU would like to encourage growth –
is rail. From an environmental perspective it beats road freight hands down,
and over long-distances it can prove extremely cost efficient. However,
differing rail gauges in key links in the chain such as Russia pose a problem
cost wise. And a lack of capacity and speed in much of Europe’s network also
acts as a break, although this is set to steadily improve. In summary we expect
this mode to very gradually gain market share as infrastructure developments
come online.

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