“At the time of the coronavirus threat, intermodal transport turns out to be one of the safest systems for the TSL industry. The goods are transported by rail over long distances, all over Europe, while the last mile is carried out by local drivers, driving to the terminals with virtually no personal contact,” notes Hupac, an intermodal operator based in Italy. It was there that a group of actors involved in intermodal transport called on the authorities to protect it.
Transport associations, including FerCargo, Assologistica and Sos LOGistica, wrote a letter in which they emphasise the role of intermodal transport during the pandemic. They warn that “the Italian economy is so closely linked to other Central and Northern European markets that if the flows of goods are blocked, there is a real risk of collapse of the whole economy,” reports transportoeuropa.it.
The remedy is to use intermodal transport, which, as the signatories of the letter write, “plays a strategic role because it is capable for transporting large quantities of goods over long distances on fixed and controlled routes, using limited and easily controlled personnel”.
An example is given in the letter. Intermodal transport taking 20 pairs of trains (i.e. 20 trains going back and forth) per day needs 60 employees to operate. Up to 800 drivers would be needed to handle the same amount of cargo. Therefore, the signatories of the letter write that any blockade of rail freight transport should be “absolutely prohibited”. They also demand that the procedures introduced to combat the coronavirus should not be based on the isolation of employees, but instead on the introduction of digital solutions that support, inter alia, administrative activities.
Contacts are kept to a minimum
As a result, the so-called touchless terminals could be created, something that is already being developed in northern Italy by intermodal operator Hupac.
The aim (of the changes – editorial note) is to reduce physical contact between people by completely eliminating the need for direct contact or, if this is not possible, maintaining a minimum recommended distance of 2 meters between them,” writes the company in a statement published by railfreight.com a week ago.
The Busto Arsizio-Gallarate terminal, located 20 km from Milan, began to require drivers to spend as much time as possible in trucks. The transport documentation has been digitised to a large extent, and glazing has been installed at the document reception points. Restrictions were also introduced in relation to human groupings. There may not be more than three people in one room when documents are handed over.
Cargo is to be collected seamlessly by customers so that storage on the terminal site is kept to a minimum. Limitations related to human relations have also been introduced in other terminals of the operator – Piacenza and Pordenone.