Controversy on water and land
Proponents and opponents of the trimodal Gateway Basel Nord are closing ranks, as a cantonal vote on a third basin in the inland port in Basel-Stadt on 29 November comes closer. The initial investment in the project, which was approved by the cantonal parliament in February, is CHF 115 million. As with every project that is for future generations, the waves are rising high in the city where the Rhine turns north.
The mathematician Blaise Pascal already taught us that sometimes the large is also found in the small. In the case of the Gateway Basel Nord, the small is the canton of Basel-Stadt, with a total area of just under 37 km2, which wants to launch a logistics project of great importance for the entire nation, and which will also have a lasting impact on future generations.
The canton is prepared to invest an initial CHF 115 million in the gateway. On top of this the operating firm will provide another CHF 130 million. CHF 83 million of this latter sum will come from the Swiss transport department. Besides financial aspects, the other factors playing a role in the debate include logistics’ policy for the bimodal shift, the volume of goods the new hub will handle and ecological considerations.
Shift to the railways
Eva Herzog, a member of the Swiss parliament’s upper house from Basel, put it in a nutshell on 9 October. “Every fourth container imported into Switzerland comes through Basel. The disadvantage of the port’s annual throughput of around 120,000 teu is that nine out of ten boxes leave the compound by truck.” Herzog referred also to the Alpine Initiative, a law that binds Switzerland to transfer goods transport to the railways.
“We can make a contribution to this effort in Basel if we attain a rail / truck ratio of around 50:50.” The Gateway Basel Nord terminal (GBN) can contribute to the intermodal shift by transferring approximately 100,000 truck journeys to goods trains that are 750 m long.
Swissterminal chief executive officer Roman Mayer doesn’t see this need. “International container transport is already all carried out by rail today. Or by barge. Container transport by truck is practically non-existent over long distances. The reason is simple – it doesn’t pay off.”
Martin Haller, chairman of the GBN’s board of directors, begs to differ. “Taking boxes from the port area to the surrounding region by rail contributes greatly to relieving the Basel area and the Jura crossings from traffic and emissions. Even to and from the central Swiss plateau the distances are attractive for large distributors to transport goods by rail. Trucks are only justified on the last mile – also in terms of distribution efficiency.
Location and access
Urban development projects tackled since 2006 in the Klybeck area and the Westquai in the city canton of Basel have given additional impetus to plans for the GBN. Any capacity bottlenecks are now set to be prevented by constructing a third port basin. Ralf Brink, who is active as a shipping agent in Basel with his own company Abacus Shipping, is critical of the situation. “In theory, all container handling could be carried out on Westquai Island.” For him, neither current nor future volumes make the project necessary. The question of whether the population growth of the city canton and the plans of the city fathers give this option a chance remains, however.
Ship captains on the Rhine, on the other hand, debate access to the new basin. Thomas Schweizer, representative of the “IG Schiffsführer Basel”, which is campaigning against the basin, has ascertained obstacles to manoeuvres, including two right-angled turns. Captain Hannes Baumgartner, on the other hand, doesn’t see any particular difficulties in this.
Conservation on everyone’s agenda
In the ecological debate, an equivalent replacement area for a 20 ha dry meadow, 11.5 ha of which will be used, is the main issue. As a compensatory measure, GBN and Swiss Rhine ports are planning to upgrade a total of 45.8 ha, including areas in the Muttenz marshalling yard, the Lange Erlen riverbank area and the Hard forest area in Pratteln. The building permit also depends on approval from Bafu, the national department of the environment.
Local councillor Jürg Stöcklin, of Basel’s Green Party, considers the replacement habitats to be sufficient. Markus Ritter, a former local councillor, differs, believing that “the nature reserve now on the site shouldn’t be moved.”