Interview with the CEO: Rail freighter will ensure the country's development and growth

The decarbonisation objectives set at European level cannot disregard a more continuous and widespread use of the railways for the goods sector. In recent years, Italy has taken important steps in the so-called "modal shift" but much remains to be done in terms of infrastructural upgrading, review of industrial policies, operational efficiency.

Assoferr, led by Armando de Girolamo, a manager with proven experience in the sector - he is the sole director of an important entrepreneurial reality such as Lotras - is an active part in the public dialogue between stakeholders and institutions to complete this process.

Can you provide us with advances on your company's 2022 forecast?

Lotras, concessionaire of the Foggia-Incoronata railway terminal and reference operator for the Forlì-Villa Selva airport, is about to close 2022 with around two thousand trains made for a total of over 1.2 million km/train (+21 % compared to 2021), with transported volumes of over 3.3 million hectoliters of wines and musts (+35%), one and a half million tons of other goods (+32%), of which 32,700 containers (+13 .2%) and over 12,000 semi-trailers. Intermodal freight transport services always provided in full compliance for the purposes of safety, sustainability and ethics in compliance with mandatory and voluntary Community and national regulations through the many cross-border corridors on which the constantly evolving company fleet passes - which currently has of about 500 railway vehicles, including tank wagons and multipurpose intermodal flatbeds – for transport solutions, including combined ones, always characterized by quality and punctuality of the service, with lower costs and lower environmental impact: solutions that have made the Lotras model a case international study.

What impact does the growing evolution of the rolling highway have in this broader context?

The intermodal system of the railway highway, launched in the last quarter of 2021, will be substantiated at the end of the current year in about 12,000 trucks not coded P (trucks that cannot be craned) in rail transit transferred from road to train; through the use of special pocket wagons and a dedicated connector, they are embarked on trains with daily connections from south to north and vice versa. The drivers are not on board and are waiting in the arrival and/or departure terminals for the semi-trailers. This system determines clear benefits in terms of environmental impact, road safety and the quality of life of hauliers, engaged only in the so-called "last road mile", testifying to an innovative model not only on a technical and organizational level, but also culturally , as it marks the full cooperation between two sectors of logistics and cargo transportation.

Are you confident about the goals that the EU and Italy have set themselves regarding the transfer of freight transport to rail?

As is known, by 2030, 30% of road freight traffic with distances exceeding 300 km will have to be transferred to other modes, including the train, with a target of 50% by 2050. This action, which in at a national level it is in line with the objectives of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan. I believe that this objective is within reach and I add, in this regard, that Italy has all the potential, as a railway cargo system, to drive this process throughout Europe.

What is the role of digitization in this regard?

The Italian railway cargo system has long crossed the borders of digitization and industry 4.0; IT and digital systems allow constant monitoring of trains along the network of railway tracks, improve the efficiency and speed of the service, implement the already high safety standards that characterize logistics and freight transport by rail, raise the potential growth of the sector, reiterating, at the same time, that rail transport pollutes less, makes the entire transport system more efficient and safe, generates belonging and well-being.

In your capacity as President of Assoferr, can you anticipate the initiatives for 2023 in comparison with the institutions?

On a general level, we will strengthen dialogue with the various institutions (Government, Parliament, Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport, Regions) and with other trade organisations. On the merits of the various issues, it must be said that the railway cargo system has demonstrated, especially during the pandemic emergency, that a country without industry and logistics focused on rail transport where, data in hand, external costs are by far the most sustainable compared to all other modes of transport - will never guarantee a future of growth and development for the territories. The value and centrality of the railway transport vocation and of the related terminals is instead demonstrated by the investments made in the various areas of the country, also declined through the construction of about 350 private sidings which have generated and still continue to generate railway traffic. That said, any policy to relaunch and strengthen logistics cannot be to the detriment of those entrepreneurs who have invested in logistics areas or private connections: this is an extremely important issue, above all in view of the greater demand for modal transfer which is already partially in place.

And according to Assoferr, what can and must be done on railway infrastructure?

The excellent work undertaken by RFI towards a more functional infrastructure for freight transport, also on the impetus of the recent PNRR, must continue and be, if possible, even more strengthened on the capacity (both in terms of gauge and capacity) of the lines and the connections to junctions and modal exchange terminals. It is also necessary to create a context of equal opportunities and strengthening between the rail transport of goods and passengers, supporting and developing not only the connections between corridors but also of the latter with all the terminal infrastructures in order to facilitate the access of goods to the corridors railways.

Then there is the always open debate on transport incentives. What is the position of the association?

It is of the utmost priority to ensure that the available resources are contained and insufficient
- with respect to the incentive purpose
- achieve the best result
possible and at the same time have systemic continuity and quantitative constancy per train/km, both in consideration of the increase in traffic and to restore dignity and concrete and real competitiveness to the train compared to other modes. Thus, full alignment with the expected result is achieved for the transport quotas to be reached by train as defined by the EC and implemented by our Government.

Giovanni Grande of Porto & Interporto (December 2022 article)