“In innovation mode”
Structural change and the strategy for the future of the Swiss Rhine ports. Port of Switzerland, the operator of the Swiss inland ports on the River Rhine, has been affected by changes in the transport industry in recent years. Director Florian Röthlingshöfer reports on how the public and private port industry is coping, thanks to major investments in infrastructure, including in the energy sector. A port festival on 2–4 June 2023 will provide insights – on land and on the waters.
What predominant trends in cargo flows have you observed in the Swiss Rhine ports since 2020, Mr Röthlingshöfer?
One winner is container volumes, which have moved steadily upwards, as have construction materials, where we increasingly position the ports as part of the circular economy.
Despite declining volumes in the energy sector, we’ve observed a degree of differentiation in the segment, for example with green methanol, e-fuels and the like, which has reinforced our strategy of expanding the port’s infrastructure for new energy sources, amongst other solutions.
The first Swiss hydrogen hub, for example, is one project that we’re working on, in Birsfelden and Muttenz, together with Avia, Varo and Getec.
What other infrastructural measures are important in the inland ports?
Our existing infrastructure has to be kept fit, and become more flexible for different types of goods. Many of our partners are also investing. As licensed railway operators the ports can contribute a great deal to traffic optimisation, as is shown by the electronic interlocking for the southern link of the port railway in Schweizerhalle, which has been operational since the end of 2021.
What is the government’s role in promoting the intermodal approach?
We’re waiting for the government’s positive decision on how to proceed with wagonload traffic in Switzerland, which is also needed by the port, as we have 25 private siding owners. 2 million t of goods are distributed through these sidings every year, which represents a logistics privilege that not every country has. Private enterprise in the port would benefit if regulations to maintain facilities were simplified – without impairing safety.
What new impetus was provided in 2022 by the RPIS digital platform, which connects inland vessels, ports and terminals?
In December the latest version of what is now called the River Ports Planning and Information Systems (RPIS) went live. The four partners Duisport, Ludwigshafen, CCI Alsace Eurométropole and us, the Port of Switzerland, can use the port network exchange to manage slots in all of the terminals and determine the estimated time of arrival for all types of goods in real time, whilst simultaneously also integrating shippers’ activities.
With the assistance of other partners we’re set to connect up the hinterlands too. We already collaborate with the maritime ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam through common interfaces to improve the exchange of information.