Interview with President Assoferr, Armando de Girolamo

Mr Armando de Girolamo (assoferr): logistics plays a key role. Aiming to the collaboration and involvement of different actors.


Mr Armando de Girolamo (Assoferr): Is logistics in crisis? Today is the time to build, not to look to the past 


Is Italian logistics in crisis? Some data seem to confirm that, and newspapers raise the alarms. The first element to underline is that it is still a growth crisis - there is a hunger for logistics, and the crisis occurs because supply would not be able to respond to demand, even if in reality the latter is influenced by largely unpredictable factors, starting with the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. Discovering now the flaws of a system where nothing has been programmed or very little has been programmed seems illogical and perhaps even unfair.

The reality is that logistics has never appeared so important, it is no coincidence that it has found a fundamental space in the National Recovery and Resilience Plan: we focus on investments, we work on projects from a system perspective and with a defined strategic horizon. It is a turning point compared to the past, even if the past continues with all its choices or non-choices, as happened in the energy sector or in other sectors.

Another reality is that logistics, despite all its inefficiencies (well known to all), has accustomed us all too well, guaranteeing, for example, the supply of goods and services even in the hardest periods of lockdown: and it is perhaps natural that the difficulty in finding alternative solutions to transport a primary commodity, such as wheat, creates bewilderment, when the problems are much more complex and concern the organization of naval transport, delays in the railway field, a logistics that - after all - did not obey very little at the root of its etymology, and has not followed a development according to "logic". On these and other issues, which have become more or less topical and to the attention of the media, Mobility Press has heard the opinion of a protagonist of the railway sector, Armando de Girolamo, new president of ASSOFERR, the association of railway operators and intermodal, and in turn a protagonist in the field, with an entrepreneurial commitment that has lasted for a lifetime, and projected to develop a logistical and intermodal capacity in the South, in a country that in the specific sector continues to suffer from a strong differentiation between North and South.


Is there a crisis in logistics in Italy, and - in particular - in rail transport?


It is impossible to answer this question without reasoning, which inevitably starts from afar. If we underline the critical situations that may concern logistics in Italy, and in particular rail transport, we have to face even exceptional events, it should not be forgotten that these situations are the consequence of a lack of planning and the failure to solve problems that are well known not from yesterday, but from the day before yesterday. That our railway infrastructure is obsolete in particular as regards freight transport is not a discovery of today, the country has concentrated all its efforts on the development of high speed, and we know instead - to pay for serious delays as regards the possible circulation of European standard trains (i.e. 750 meters long, with capacity up to 2,000 tons, axial weight and dimensions for the transport of semi-trailers and large containers), or - in general - an adequate level of development of intermodality or rail transport. For years Assoferr and the other associations have waged battles for awareness of these issues: these crises, which arise in exceptional situations and in partly completely unpredictable circumstances, have caused contradictions already existing in the system to explode in a decidedly striking way, and - it must be said - not limited only to the transport and logistics sector. It is therefore a question of making the necessary distinctions,


What errors do we pay for, in particular, the consequences?


After all, making the list would even be useless. The problem is also cultural: we are talking about - that is rail, car, ship, air transport, as if everyone can go their own way and ignore the deep interdependencies between one and the other, or the fact that logistics plays an increasingly decisive role in industrial production itself.

In newspapers we read of industrialists forced to refuse orders for since it is not possible to guarantee the conditions of transport, it is certainly necessary to make a leap (also culturally, in fact) to overcome the logic of exclusive assignment from "ex works" to free at destination. Another example could be the lack of drivers in road transport, another problem that is known not from yesterday, but from the day before yesterday. Has something been done to solve it, to look into the crisis of a profession where everyone has always aimed to enforce only the law of the strongest? Even in public tenders - to give an example - for a certain period the aim was to make the logic of the maximum discount prevail, only to discover that the temporary advantage in terms of lower cost was almost never a good investment.


Is there a solution instead?


Aiming for the collaboration and involvement of the various subjects in investment projects and new work. I represent Assoferr and I have a certain reluctance to refer to the experience of my company, Lotras: however, the traveling motorway service between Brindisi and Forlì that we have successfully inaugurated (and which we will soon replicate on Turin and Friuli) was born above all through dialogue with hauliers, in particular those "owners" who in Italy still represent a good number (between eighteen and twenty thousand) of workers, and who need first of all guarantees to continue working. But now it is not them but the train that makes the 700-kilometer journey at night, while the trucks only intervene in the terminal phases in the morning and in the afternoon, guaranteeing the truck driver the opportunity to make other trips during the day and if anything, earn more. Besides and no less an absolutely more acceptable quality of life.


Cooperation and do not contrapposition reamong the inspiring principles by Assoferr?


I would almost state: it is a demonstration the recent adhesion by Assoferr a Conftrasporto indicate that the right path is in synergies and in the search for common solutions. In all the proposals that Assoferr presents at various tables or on occasions such as the Pietrarsa International Forum, Assoferr aims to involve all subjects in projects in the name of sharing and a common horizon of overall development of the entire country, overcoming particularities and barriers. The cultural turning point is already thinking about logistics as a whole, and making the relative choices in a systemic logic, as is happening in part.


Are there any positive signs of a turning point?


It should be recognized that the work of Minister Giovannini, and his team, to provide a strategic planning horizon and a framework in which to insert all the investments and planned interventions corresponds to what has been indicated several times by Assoferr, and represents a path that many of we have seen it very well applied abroad. When we operators are called out of Italy and are involved in a project for a new realization, we find ourselves faced with a work that began, if anything, a few years earlier, and where everyone is called to play a role, in which they must make their best, but participating in a common engagement.


Positive examples of projects of logistics finalization exists they are also in Italy.


It certainly is to underline like the Barilla project which, in order to transport its grain load exclusively by train, represents an example of what a new logistic organization means that fully exploits the multi-modality and advantages of the railway. Barilla has anticipated a turning point that is now recognized and that should be followed by the major companies, but to carry out the project it took its time and investments on both sides. Praise to Barilla, but also praise to us railway operators who - in order not to lose a grain of the precious wheat in loading operations. We have invested almost all of our resources in long-amortization assets and structures. But to build the future it is also necessary to engage in courageous challenges.


Investments in infrastructures or in the so-called “hardware” require their own time, but today in the field of technology or “software” it is possible to operate immediately.


Fortunately, there is no shortage of positive examples. There are ports, interports or intermodal centers that have invested in the digitization of processes with enormous advantages in terms of rationalization and speeding up of operations which also mean advantages in terms of safety, sustainability, economic return. It is generally the first step in the development of intermodality, which in turn becomes more competitive: a single train carries the equivalent of about 40 trucks, ensures reliability of the entire process, and it is needless to underline what this means in terms. safety, sustainability or overall economic benefit.


These are the battles on which Assoferr is engaged.


In all my activities I have always been inspired by the principle of "reality and loyalty", and I believe Assoferr should be inspired by the same principles. The connection with reality is necessary for for leaps forward, criticisms that are only destructive or declarations to win some newspaper headlines are useless, because progress is slow and the result of daily activity, to be exercised with patience if anything. In the meantime, loyalty is needed to keep faith with the commitments of what you want to build: a commitment of loyalty that must concern both the public and the private subject. Today, if anything, we complain about the lack of a certain infrastructure, but we forget how many times the promises of a specific work are not followed up by the facts and those who had planned investments had to back down. With the PNRR we seem to have finally entered a European dimension and context also for this aspect, and it is now up to everyone to do their part.


Antonio D'Angelo