Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, Europe's ports have demonstrated their role as essential and critical infrastructures, crucial in the supply of necessary goods. This strategic function of ports should be better reflected in Europe's future policy as the cornerstone of a European sustainable, competitive, innovative and resilient transport system. The European Green Deal calls for a 90% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from transport for the EU to become a climate-neutral economy by 2050. All transport modes need to become more sustainable, and multimodal transport solutions need to be widely available to achieve this ambitious target. This plan implies decisive actions to shift more activity towards more sustainable transport modes, mainly increasing the number of passengers travelling by rail and commuting by public transport as well as shifting a substantial amount of freight into rail, inland waterways, and short sea shipping.
Ports are critical players of EU international connectivity for the European economy and their regions. In the transition to a zero-emission economy, ports should become multimodal mobility and transport hubs, linking all the relevant modes and enabling more sustainable forms of connectivity. A prospective that would improve air quality locally, thereby contributing to the better health of nearby residents. The development of port infrastructures will contribute to optimising multimodal logistics chains' performance and shifting freight transport from road to other more sustainable modes. Such a shift is vital to achieving a competitive and resource-efficient transport system. Hence, it is urgent to streamline the development of multimodal logistic corridors pivoting on the key logistic nodes according to a common European level approach. A common EU framework for freight transport policies should support this transition with specific actions and dedicated funds to promote a modal shift towards more sustainable freight transport.
Investments in sustainable transport infrastructures as part of the Next Generation EU
The Recovery and Resilience Facility, is the centrepiece of Next Generation EU with € 672.5 billion in loans and grants available to mitigate the pandemic's economic and social impact and make European economies more sustainable, resilient and better prepared for the green and digital transitions. It is an excellent opportunity for EU Members to accelerate investments in sustainable transport infrastructures. First of all, it is essential to complete the missing links of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) core network and tackle the planned works to unlock the potential of the overall multimodal transport. Investments in ports infrastructure should mainly focus on access infrastructures and "last mile" connections, particularly rail, inland waterways and short sea shipping, contributing to the effective interconnection and integration into the transport network. In the second instance, resources should be devoted to the development of ancillary infrastructures (e.g. connecting or siding tracks, power connections, adaptations for 750 mt train length etc.), ICT equipment and applications for the provision or improvement of information flow within the port and along the logistic chain ("Digitalisation"). However, it is to recall how the presence of limited capacity or functional bottlenecks can hamper the activation of competitive multimodal services, thus removing obstacles to modal shift. For instance, to allow for 750 mt trains to operate, the related harmonization of standards at the EU level must be achieved in all the segments making up the route from the origin to the destination.
The future scenarios for Veneto Region’s port system
These considerations are particularly appropriate in the case of the Veneto Region. This region is a crossroad of transnational corridors characterized by growing traffic and relevance due to the consolidation of long-term processes such as the integration with Central and Eastern Europe as well as the importance gained by the Mediterranean Sea (and consequently by the Adriatic Sea) in worldwide maritime traffic routes linking Europe to the Far East.
The Region is crossed by 3 TEN-T Priority Corridors (Scandinavian-Mediterranean, Mediterranean and Baltic-Adriatic) and connected to the Eastern Mediterranean Motorways of the sea through the port of Venice and the Northern Italy Waterway System. Moreover, Veneto Region is also affected by relevant local-level traffic demand due to its densely populated area. The Veneto productive structure, mainly consisting of a mix of small and medium-sized enterprises, is at the same time generating remarkable traffic flows and requiring an efficient logistics and transport system. This co-existence of both the local intra-regional mobility and the long-distance international traffic usually caused widespread congestion. To cope with this situation, an efficient multimodal transport system has to be further developed.
At the European level, the implementation of priority transport infrastructures is planned along the above-mentioned Core Network Corridors in the medium-long term (2030). It is important to note the impact on long-distance of the ongoing implementation of strategic infrastructures such as the Brenner Base Tunnel, the Koralm and Semmering ones, and the section Torino-Milano-Venezia on the Mediterranean Corridor. However, along with such fundamental interventions on the core network, at the regional level, further interventions are needed to improve last-mile connections in the port of Venice and in the rail-road terminals of Verona and Padua, as well as connections to the inland waterway system.
On this issue, to support the expected growing traffic and increase the share of rail traffic in Venice's port, the North Adriatic Sea Port Authority is planning several projects. The goal is to optimise the railway district and efficiently connect the new terminals/activities with the national network, improving flows and relieving transport pressure on the northern part of Porto Marghera, the most densely populated part. In December 2018, the port Authority, jointly with Rete Ferroviaria Italiana Spa and Veneto Region, signed an agreement worth 50 million euro, which provides for numerous interventions aimed at strengthening the cargo railway station of Venice-Marghera, including "EU-standard" tracks to accommodate 750mt long trains. On one side, these new investments will immediately have positive effects improving the efficiency of the port system's capacity and competitiveness. On the other side, they will also free up potential areas to be rethought with a view to renewed port-city cooperation, eliminating the adverse effects of road congestion and interference between passenger and cargo traffic.
The forthcoming new EU Transport Policy will set the long-term goals and initiatives for the European transport sector for the coming decade in the framework of Europe's major ambitions in terms of decarbonisation. Being at the crossroads of supply chains, hubs of energy, industry and blue economy, ports are at the centre of different strategies. They can be unique engines of growth and recovery for the EU economy. It is crucial to promote and step-up investments in ports development, notwithstanding the expected volume drops in the short term, as strategic infrastructure recognised in the framework of the Next Generation EU.