Photo: ALIS

Better connectivity and economic incentives for Italy’s islands are vital, says ALIS’ Nicolò Berghinz

Nicolò Berghinz, Team Manager of ALIS, Associazione Logistica dell'Intermodalità Sostenibile (the Sustainable Intermodal Logistics Association), explains why infrastructure development, digitalisation, island connectivity, and more EU harmonisation, are all priorities for ALIS members in Italy and abroad.

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Amid the push to decarbonise logistics, intermodal has emerged as a major lever for cutting emissions. Here in Europe, one organisation formed to help promote and grow the use of intermodal transport is ALIS, the Sustainable Intermodal Logistics Association.

Founded in October 2016 with the help of the Grimaldi family, who own the well-known shipping company Grimaldi Lines, ALIS has expanded its initial membership of 40 to a whopping 2,300.

The membership, although predominantly represented by road transport entities, has representation across the supply chain covering all transport modes. There’s also international representation too, with 1 in 5 members now coming from European nations outside Italy.

To get an insight into the current state of intermodal logistics in Italy, and learn about the pressing priorities of ALIS and its members, we took the time to talk to Nicolò Berghinz, Team Manager of ALIS.

The ins and outs of intermodal logistics in Italy

So how is Italy faring at the moment with respect to intermodal logistics? Where are the hubs that can be taken advantage of, and where is improvement evidently needed?

With regards to the latter, Berghinz stressed that infrastructure improvements in and around the port of Genoa are required:

“We do have some challenging regions. Genoa for instance, despite being one of the most important ports in Europe, has a lot of difficulties in terms of infrastructure. The railway there needs to be substantially revamped, considering the port is an important point of entry.”

On the other hand, in terms of where the infrastructure is there and facilitates intermodal logistics, Berghinz referred to the Port of Trieste, as well as the Interporto Verona intermodal hub:

“Trieste is a port and it’s a rail hub at the same time. Another good example is Verona, which is maybe the most important intermodal hub in Europe. It’s connected to all the major railways in Europe. It’s not by the sea, but is connected to two major ports in Venice and Ravenna, both of which are not far away. Moreover, the northeast of Italy is another door to Europe for import and for export. Ships can come from the Suez Canal into the Adriatic Sea and unload cargo at Venezia or Ravenna. Containers can then be transported quickly to Verona, which represents an important, strategic connection between rail and sea,” said Berghinz.

Other important examples listed by Berghinz included Livorno, Nola and Bari:

“There’s also Livorno in Tuscany, which, like Trieste, connects sea and rail. Moreover, In Nola, which is not distant from Naples, there are a lot of train connections. Then in Puglia, there’s the port of Bari, which is important too considering it is the first port with a rail connection in the southeast coming from the Suez Canal.”


Berghinz also touched on the push for logistics companies to decarbonise their operations.

As one might expect, given ALIS’ focus on intermodality, Berghinz emphasised the role that intermodal logistics can play in reducing emissions by taking trucks off the road:

“As a goal, we always try to strongly reduce the amount of trucks required on the road. Our 2023 study found that members had taken six million trucks off the roads by moving freight to sea or rail. This naturally helps with the environment. Yes, we can use electric trucks, or trucks running on alternative fuels, but they are not always efficient. Electric, for example, is not efficient over long distances. That’s why we think that the real solution is intermodality and changing the way we transport goods.”

Berghinz then added:

“Intermodality is a solution that exists today. Nowadays, for example, it’s possible to move goods from the north of Germany to Turkey without any single kilometre by road. Companies that discover intermodality for transporting goods really will never go back to just using long-haul road transport. Of course, road transport will always be needed for the first and last mile, but ultimately companies shall need to embrace intermodality.”

How stakeholders in Italy’s logistics sector are managing the digital transformation

Digitalisation is another area that ALIS is keen to foster and see its members develop.

Asked about how well Italy’s logistics sector has been managing the digital transformation, Berghinz told trans.iNFO that Italy was “on the right track” but was not up to speed with some other nations due to cultural influences:

“I think that Italy is improving a lot in terms of digitalisation. We’re on the right track, but of course there are some areas where we could do better. In some other countries, the culture lends itself to looking forward and thinking about digitalisation among other things. Here in Italy, things are a little bit slower and there’s a different approach. That said, now I can really say that Italy is fully committed to digitalisation, and there are sectors where Italy is arguably developing faster than other nations.”

In the opinion of Berghinz, Italy’s ratification of the e-CMR is also a good example of how digitalisation is beginning to take hold in the country:

“On the subject of digitalisation, at ALIS, our first challenge has been the e-CMR, the paper for digitised transport. Italy was unique in not having ratified the e-CMR; everybody in Europe could use it except Italy. However, a few months ago, it was ratified and so we are also part of this process now. This is crucial not just for tracing transported goods, but also for invoicing, which influences companies’ cash flow,” said ALIS’ Team Manager.

Another factor that has helped to accelerate digitalisation in Italy, according to Berghinz, has been Europe-wide implementations of digital standards and technologies. In his opinion, the impact of Europe working together in a unified way is often understated.

Need for pan-European solutions

Furthering the topic on the importance of EU harmonisation, Berghinz was at pains to stress his view that individual member states should work together for the benefit of Europe as a whole:

“We are really one Europe, and when it comes to goods transport, we need to think this way. We can see that some countries have their own priorities that are hindering international logistics. I’d like the EU and its institutions to take strong action here and consider changes. There are some common sense solutions that haven’t been implemented. If Italy has a problem in the Alps or the Frejus tunnel or whatever, and if Germany has problems in the south for its goods, it should be considered a problem for Europe as a whole – not just for the country where the disruptions are or where block handling is in place.”

Berghinz added:

“The decision making processes could also be streamlined. Before solutions can be implemented, we often have to wait for the approval of the individual member states, and sometimes you even have regional laws that can complicate matters further too. We strongly believe that Europe should have a common approach. What we have to do is try to be more efficient, and harmonisation helps here.”

Better connecting Italy’s islands and addressing the north-south infrastructure gap

Continuing the discussion on infrastructure, two of ALIS’ priorities are to better connect the islands of Sicily and Sardinia with Italy’s mainland, and bring the infrastructure of Italy’s south in line with that of the north.

Boosting island connectivity

When questioned on why Sicily and Sardinia were key, Berghinz argued that they were of strategic importance to Italy:

“These two islands are really part of the country. They’re not just for tourism; they’re huge islands that are strategic for the country and respected very much. Of course, we can’t do anything to eliminate the sea that separates the islands, but we can take their situations into consideration while improving connectivity. Certainly we have to support infrastructure. We should also consider the important role that shipping companies like Grimaldi, who transport people, trucks and cargo daily from ports around the country to and from the islands, play in bringing connectivity to Italy as a whole,” Berghinz told trans.iNFO.

It’s not just a case of facilitating better island connectivity either according to ALIS’ Team Manager. Berghinz also called for economic incentives to help islanders and their businesses.

Berghinz argues that the benefits of these incentives would be enjoyed by Italy as a whole:

“The state could implement economic incentives for the people and companies there. We need to take into account the fact that businesses and residents are disadvantaged by the need to take planes or ships to travel to and from the mainland. So costs are obviously a lot higher compared to mainland Italy. Subsidies have a role to play here, especially targeted subsidies that get to the right people and companies. Everybody would benefit from these subsidies thanks to the extra economic activity.”

One much-talked about project that would undoubtedly improve connectivity between one of those islands is the proposed bridge linking Sicily and the Italian mainland. Plans for the project were unveiled by infrastructure minister Matteo Salvini in 2022; it is estimated to cost €12bn over 15 years.

However, the plans have recently been hit by an investigation launched by Italian prosecutors. In addition to this, there have also been safety concerns due to fault lines that were discovered in the seabed of the Strait of Messina in 2021.

Despite Salvini’s insistence that the bridge will be constructed, few have confidence that it will actually happen.

As for what Berghinz thinks about the plans, he stressed that ALIS as an organisation is neither for nor against the project:

“When it comes to the idea of a bridge from the mainland to Sicily, we are neither in favour or against, we’re simply just watching what happens. We nonetheless do know that it will likely never come to fruition as this is a project that’s been long talked about but never really got close to happening.”

Ramping up infrastructure in the south

Finally, another area ALIS has spoken about is the need to bring infrastructure in the south of Italy in line with the level seen in the north of the country.

When quizzed on the scale of this disparity, also in terms of economics, Berghinz told trans.iNFO:

“The north-south division does still exist to an extent. This is simply because companies in the south have more distance to cover to transport their goods, and less infrastructure. This is the first noticeable difficulty that southern companies face. A lot of work has to be done, especially in terms of infrastructure, whether that be road or rail. The difference is very clear – you may not find another country in the world with such a disparity. Thankfully things are improving though, and the gap is not as evident as it was 40 or 50 years ago.”

ALIS’ Team Manager thus argues that the best way to minimise this economic disadvantage is to invest in infrastructure that will boost intermodality for the benefit of manufacturers in the south:

“Intermodality is also a logistics strategy that can really help southern Italian companies to reduce costs, be more efficient and thus more competitive on the market. It doesn’t just benefit the transport and logistics companies, but also manufacturers, who can take advantage of lower shipping costs. That in turn means better prices for end consumers in the shops.”

On a positive note, Berghinz also highlighted that the port connections in the south of the country provide a means for companies in the region to transport goods across Europe via short-sea shipping.

“On the other hand, logistics nowadays is very diversified, so it’s not just a case of north and south. Everything’s connected. Take the Mediterranean Sea for example, there are maritime connections from the south of Italy to ports in Spain, Tunisia, Morocco, Greece and elsewhere. This diversification helps the south,” concluded the ALIS representative.