Transport talk is all about ‘green’

  • 2013-10-03
  • By Dorian Ziedonis

RIGA - Tucked away in one corner of Riga’s Congress Hall at the 15th Baltic Development Forum Summit, in a small but crowded meeting room, a session titled ‘Transport Greening Actions – At the Crossroads of Public and Private Interests,’ was underway this past May. The Baltic Development Forum meets every year to discuss issues of immediate, and long-term, concern to countries in the region. Those attending this session were eager to hear what is in store for Europe’s transport sector.

Green means money
The audience learned first-hand how airBaltic is “working hard to become a leaner, and greener, airline: it is doing so by introducing new technologies,” announced airBaltic’s Vice President, Corporate Communications Janis Vanags.
The air carrier’s most visible sign of this will be new planes: last year it placed an order to buy 10, with an option for another 10, of the all-new Bombardier CS300 aircraft. Based on the list price of the CS300, the firm-order contract for the first 10 planes is valued at approximately $764 million. By 2015, airBaltic will have its new fleet, says Vanags.
According to the manufacturer, the CSeries aircraft combines advanced materials and leading-edge technology to deliver fuel savings of up to 20 percent against the competition, a huge savings. And by harmonizing the fleet across fewer aircraft types, additional savings will be realized through lower maintenance costs.

Working with the existing fleet of turboprop Q400 aircraft, says Vanags, savings of $2 million are now being realized through “satellite-guided flight paths” which shorten the approaches, saving fuel as well. These state-of-the-art turboprops are also the first such ‘green’ satellite flights in Europe, he added.

Even the pilots are part of the green effort, as they look for every possibility to save fuel.
Director of AECOM Ltd. Arnis Kakulis stated that greening transport in the Baltics means “reaching sustainability in the system, for both passenger and freight traffic.” And one of the best ways to ‘green’ the environment is to move cargo from the road, to rail.

He says that there also needs to be “more regional cohesion,” which broke down after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The TEN-T initiative is needed “to build it back, to link city centers faster and more efficiently.”
The TEN-T was initiated in the 1990s by European policymakers, as a trans-European transport network, specifically as a single, multimodal network that integrates land, sea and air transport networks throughout theUnion. It should allow goods and people to circulate quickly and easily between member states and assure international connections, writes the European Commission. Essentially, it provides the basis for coordinated efforts across membe states in the area of transportation systems.
Kakulis pointed out that though there is sufficient road and air infrastructure in place, “there is a lack of rail infrastructure in the Baltics.”

Moving by rail
This is set to change, as the Rail Baltica project, he says, “is the catalyst to bring about a Baltic single market, connecting the cities.” It is substantial in that it will increase the competitiveness for traffic, from Finland to Western Europe. Today’s economy “needs rail,” he says, with both a “north-south and east-west direction for the modernization of the economies of the Baltic States,” adds Kakulis.
Electrification should include not just the rail network, but also cars and buses. This all means a greener economy, he says.
But Kakulis advocates major change. Piecemeal infrastructure investment, as is done now on Latvia’s railways, won’t work, he says, as it’s just “too old for that.”

The rail network, he says, needs to be upgraded to “the 1435 electrified higher speed rail design, along with [adopting] intelligent trasport systems for Latvia.” This would be a strategic investment into the country’s future, giving the customer flexibility and choice in whatever transport mode they want to use.
Most railways in Europe use the standard gauge of 1,435 mm. The Russian, and Baltic, railway network is based on the wider - 1,520 mm. - gauge.

Electrification designs mean that power is provided to the trains by overhead wires or a third rail. Locomotives are electric, not diesel-powered meaning they are usually more efficient in the use of fuel. Running off the electric lines doesn’t mean slower trains. The French passenger train TGV, for example, has a maximum service speed of 300km/h, with newer lines such as LGV Est built for speeds up to 350km/h, writes

Integrate or lose

European Route E20 project adviser Martin Venning gave a warning that if Latvia doesn’t improve and integrate with the trans-European transport network, “it will have a difficult time keeping up with demand” and the rest of the EU. The political leaders of the Baltic countries need to get involved with Rail Baltica, he says.
The challenges for the Baltic Sea region are reaching “scale, connectivity, intermodality, competition and R&D,” he says. The Baltics need to “get back to innovation. It comes by increment, at the margins, and is already happening at the individual level.”

The Baltic market is just one small cog in the wider EU network. Venning points out that “The EU needs better management of outcomes, and allowances have to be made for failure in R&D. In the U.S., for every innovative idea that succeeds, there are [numerous] failures, which nonetheless progress the knowledge base.”
What would be more pleasant, sitting comfortably with a cup of coffee, watching the scenery go by through the windows of a speeding eurostar train, or straining at little dots on the ground as you are flying 36,000 feet up? How about getting on the train in Tallinn, and getting off at a relaxed hour, fully rested in Prague, as one could have done in 1932? These were questions posed by DG Move European Commission adviser to the Rail Baltica project James Pond.

Will these be options in the future? “The political will is already there for Rail Baltica. The reality is 3.6 billion euros [are committed]. This is the key element linking the Baltic States to [Western] Europe,” he stated. The risk of not carrying through with it is substantial. Pond says that “The Baltics have to be connected with rail, otherwise they are cut off, they won’t develop.”

Many question whether there will be sufficient demand for passenger travel on such a north-south route. Kakulis, however, says that the Rail Baltica corridor is “all about freight.” One-quarter of revenues will come from passenger traffic, the rest from freight. In general, there is the 80/20 rule, where freight has to provide the 80 percent of revenue to be successful. He adds that “freight has to be green.”

Road clearance

A good rail network is, nonetheless, imperative to carry the heavy loads in today’s economy. It works to reduce the truck congestion from the road, leading to lower pollution in the process.
Pond stressed that rail is the key element of the core of the transportation system. From Helsinki, to Tallinn, to Amsterdam. It has to be a seamless network.

Multi-modal transport has everyone’s attention today. Vanags pointed to airBaltic’s already strong ‘inter-modal’ connection possibilities: one can seamlessly connect, under the airline’s umbrella, by taxi, Deutsche Bahn Fly & Rail, buses and bicycle rental (its bicycle rental service was recently taken over by the Sixt car rental company). It should work similarly with cargo: a container needs to easily transfer from a ship, to a waiting truck, to a freight train and back to a truck, in getting products from manufacturer to customer.

The customer is the one who is ultimately driving this trend. The demand is for efficiency, flexibility and lower cost.
However, many difficulties remain in realizing seamless multi-modality. Each country still has its own standards, meaning there are few global, let alone regional commonalities.
All speakers agreed that the sector needs to standardize, from airlines under a single European sky policy with better air traffic management, to common rail standards and better port management. Pond said that with EU money behind the initiatives, a seamless system can be built. This should also lead the trend towards greener European-wide transport.