A stimulus for the economic development of the Świętokrzyskie Province, logistics facilitation for businesses, an increase of the share of rail transport in total transport and, consequently, a measurable environmental impact – these are the major arguments speaking in favour of setting up of intermodal terminals in the region. The new EU perspective, which is just starting and the on-going construction of spokes for the Solidarity Transport Hub (STH), is a perfect timing to make these concepts come true.
One of the challenges faced by our country in the transport sector is to harmonize this sector with the standards effective in the European Union, which has been calling for the development of intermodal transport technology for years and years now. The suggested development provides for an alternative or complements road transport, enabling – with great economic and environmental benefits – the use of railways, maritime transport and inland waterways.
The intermodal transport, i.e. transport based on various modes of transport, including primarily rail, is widely promoted in Poland. According to data published in 2022 by the Office of Rail Transport in the ‘Intermodal transport’ report – in 2021, 26.5 million tonnes of freight – in Polish also referred to as combined transport – was transported, up by approximately 11.6% compared to 2020. The trend, as can be seen, is upward and, it should be noted that even the COVID-19 pandemic that was present at that time did not stop it. Therefore it is safe to predict that this trend will continue definitely in the years to come, the more that intermodal transport is also promoted by the European Union, which, according to the European Green Deal announced in 2019, set an objective of achieving climate neutrality on our continent by 2050, mainly through reduction of emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Among the methods leading to the attainment of this objective are those related to transport – by 2050, a 90% reduction of transport harmful emissions has been set at the European level. This is a huge challenge that has to be faced by all European Community member states.
In the context of Poland’s activities, it should be noted that efforts are taken to modernise the railway in compliance with zero-emission standards and to enhance its share in both passenger and freight transport. It is therefore clear that the implementation of the European Green Deal requires a decisive conversion of freight transport from road to rail. The EU’s Strategy for Sustainable and Smart Mobility, published in December 2020, set, among a number of specific targets, a doubling of rail freight traffic by 2050. This is to contribute to a more climate-neutral, digital and resilient European transport system. In this context, it makes perfect sense to promote rail transport, which is the most environmentally friendly and energy-efficient mode of transport, accounting for only 0.4% of carbon dioxide emissions in Europe. Thus, all the indications are in favour of the fact that rail will play an important role in the faster reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. This perception favours the development of this mode of transport and increases an opportunity for introduction of regulations that will significantly improve its competitive edge vis-à-vis road transport. Thanks to them, the transport of containers and contrailers on the Polish roads could be significantly reduced, and thus contribute to stopping their degradation and improving their safety.
In the aforementioned Strategy for Sustainable and Smart Mobility, the call for a resilient transport system is made to strengthen the single market by, inter alia, enhancement of efforts and capital expenditures to complete the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) by the end of 2030. This route, based on the interconnection of road, rail, water and air routes, is intended to provide EU countries with transport cohesion, to eliminate white spots on the map and to help make the transport of goods or the movement of people faster, more efficient, safer and in a more economic manner.
The TEN-T network is mentioned here not without a reason, since it comprises railway lines No. 8 (Warsaw – Radom – Skarżysko-Kamienna – Kielce – Kraków) and No. 25 (Łódź Kaliska – Skarżysko-Kamienna – Ożarów Cement Plant – Dębica), which intersect in Skarżysko-Kamienna, located in the north of the Świętokrzyskie Province. It should be mentioned that railway line No. 8 is a part of the new EU rail freight corridor RFC-11 (Amber) on the nearby section. The city has been identified for several years as the location for the region’s first intermodal terminal. As defined by the European Economic Commission, the European Conference of Ministers of Transport and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an intermodal terminal means a place equipped with transhipment facilities for the storage and handling of intermodal loading units.
The significance and key importance of such a project for the region’s development is evidenced by the fact that the Świętokrzyskie provincial government added this investment project in Annex II Areas of project implementation and strategic undertakings in the most important development document, i.e. Świętokrzyskie Province Development Strategy 2030+. It reads as follows: the Świętokrzyskie Province is one of the regions that still lacks a spatial facility with infrastructure and proper organisation enabling intermodal reloading of transport units (containers, contrailers and semi-trailers) between transport modes belonging to different segments of the transport sector.
Skarżysko-Kamienna, as a city with a well-developed railway infrastructure and a location at the intersection of the aforementioned railway lines, seems to be an excellent location for such an object, the development of which could be an stimulus for the development of the economic potential of the region, as well as a facilitation for businessmen, not only those running their activities in the Świętokrzyskie Province. PKP S.A. owns investment sites with approximately 30 ha in Skarżysko-Kamienna in the area of Piękna Street. The property is located in the north-eastern part of the city, at a distance of about 7 km from the S7 expressway, which is also a part of the TEN-T road comprehensive network, providing good transport links of the Świętokrzyskie Province with the Nordic countries via Warsaw and the Tricity with the Czechia and Slovakia via Kielce and Kraków. Skarżysko-Kamienna is therefore an attractive place for the construction of a transnational logistics centre, coordinating logistic services and short- and long-haul transport, the location of which would enable efficient handling of, inter alia, shipments to the countries signatories of the Three Seas Initiative and exchanges along the Silk Road. The location enables the construction of a large terminal and a number of facilities for interacting logistics service infrastructure, such as warehousing and sorting facilities. The cost of this investment project is estimated to be around PLN 150 million. The aforementioned annex to the Świętokrzyskie Province Development Strategy 2030+ comprises specific provisions concerning the investment project: ‘The project provided for the construction of a transhipment yard with an area of more than 62,500 square meters, two railway tracks each 750 m long, two gantry cranes and two face shovels for container handling.
As already mentioned – the Świętokrzyskie Province is one of those regions, where not a single intermodal terminal is in operation. Meanwhile, according to data provided by the Polish Institute of Road Transport, 44 transhipment terminals are located in our country, of which 6 are offshore and 38 are onshore terminals. This picture is complemented by information from the Statistics Poland (former Polish Central Statistical Office), according to which, in Poland in 2021, most freight was transported to and from the Łódzkie (24.6%), the Pomorskie (18.1%) and the Śląskie (15.3%) Provinces. This data clearly shows that the distribution of intermodal terminals is uneven in Poland, and the Świętokrzyskie Province is a white spot in this area. Meanwhile, it is the location of such facilities that is one of the key drivers of the development of intermodal transport so much promoted by the European Union. This aspect may open the way for the construction of further intermodal terminals, also in the Świętokrzyskie Province. Our country, and the Świętokrzyskie region in particular, have some catch up work to perform – according to data from the Office for Rail Transport, Poland is in eighth place among EU countries in terms of the number of intermodal terminals. The majority of terminals (177) are located in Germany and France (84). Therefore it seems vital to increase the number of such facilities in Poland and to launch their construction in the Świętokrzyskie region.
A factor conducive to this type of investment projects will probably be the fact that the new 2021-2027 EU Perspective has just been launched, which is largely focused on the support to environment-friendly investment project. Therefore a question can be posed – is there a chance that not one, but several transhipment terminals will be built in the Świętokrzyskie Province in the years to come?
Undoubtedly, the projects related to the development of such facilities belong to a broader context, including the following essential components – the construction of the Solidarity Transport Hub (STH) and ten railway lines leading to it – the so-called spokes. The STH is a planned hub between Warsaw and Łódź, which will integrate air, rail and road transport. It is intended to handle 40 million passengers a year in the first phase. An important component of this colossal undertaking will be the railway lines that will converge at the STH. According to the plans already presented by the government, the target layout envisages the development of ten spokes, which will be operated partly using the existing routes and partly using new routes and will converge at a projected interchange in the Baranowo area and in Warsaw. According to the Solidarity Transport Hub – the planned total length of the lines is 1,600 km, the construction and modernisation of which will last until 2040. In the Świętokrzyskie Province alone, 73 km of new lines are planned to be constructed under the STH Programme. As a result of the creation of the so-called spokes, it is expected to take no longer than two hours to reach the central airport by train. The coverage of the network will include the largest cities in the country, and it is assumed that more than 100 Polish agglomerations will be included in a zone guaranteeing access to the STH in no more than 2.5 hours.
When analysing the routes of the individual spokes, one should focus on the one marked as No. 7, which will start at the point of departure of the Central Railway Trunk Line in Grodzisk Mazowiecki and run through Opoczno, Końskie, Kielce, Busko-Zdrój, Tarnów, Nowy Sącz to Muszyna towards the southern railway border crossing in Košice in Slovakia. Such a connection via Poland opens up an opportunity of rail transport on routes such as: Istanbul – Tallinn, Odessa -Tallinn or Thessaloniki – Tallinn. Furthermore – in the Kije municipality (in the Busko county), Spoke no. 7 crosses the Broad Gauge Metallurgical Line (LHS), which, due to its industrial nature and the fact that it connects the Polish-Ukrainian railway border crossing Hrubieszów – Izow with Silesia and runs through five provinces, is of strategic importance. Such a favourable location of the Kije municipality makes it an excellent candidate for the construction of an intermodal terminal in this area. The second natural location is the intersection of Spoke No. 7 with the S7 (Warsaw -Krakow) and S74 (Rzeszow – Piotrków) routes in Kielce.
The locations of the intermodal terminals in Skarżysko-Kamienna, Kijy and Kielce represent a bold proposal, which is compatible with the idea of sustainable transport development. The Świętokrzyskie Province, which is still a blank spot on the map of intermodal facilities, would, thanks to the implementation of such projects, be placed on the route of modern transport and logistics chains, which would certainly send a stimulus for the regional development. Certainly the final decision to choose the location of the facilities must be preceded by a thorough analysis of the size of the potential shipments that will be handled by the terminal, the interest of businessmen and thus the business case. The social aspect, related to the possible resentment of the local community to the construction of such facilities, is also not without significance. On the other hand, however, a well-planned and located terminal in an area with high production capacity and at the intersection of freight traffic routes is an opportunity not only for dynamic economic development, but also for new job creation. The present time, due to the implementation of STH-related investment projects and the launch of the new EU financial perspective for the years 2021-2027, seems to be the best timing to face challenge of building such facilities in the Świętokrzyskie region. This may also be accelerated by the year-long war in Ukraine, which has disrupted supply chains due to the collapse of road, sea and rail transport activities. In the latter case – the routing of shipments along the freight route running from China through, inter alia, Russia and Belarus to Poland and further on to western Europe – becomes a question both in economic and ethical terms. Meanwhile, Europe needs and will continue to need goods from Central and East Asia. To bring them via the northern route via Russia is to support a hostile state with transport revenues and to make supplies dependent on an aggressor on whom the civilised world imposes ever newer and more severe sanctions. The construction of a north-south axis based on the aforementioned Spoke No. 7 and the additionally connected Spoke No. 3 (running through Podlasie region and Masurian Lake District and in one of its branches leading to the railway border crossing with Lithuania in Trakiškės) supports the development of connections within the framework of the countries belonging to the Three Sees Initiative that are friendly to us and Ukraine as a partner state. At the same time, it is an opportunity for the development of companies and the Świętokrzyskie Province, including through the creation of intermodal terminals under the auspices of the INDUSTRIA Logistics company – in Kijy and Kielce. It should be noted that in October 2021, a Letter of Intent (LOI) was signed between the then Świętokrzyskie Mineral Raw Material Mines and the CZH Group, in which both parties expressed their willingness to carry out a preliminary analysis of potential opportunities, scopes and cooperation models in the area of logistics, including in particular the construction of a transhipment terminal in Skarżysko-Kamienna as a destination for transport shipments from China via the Xi’an-Baku-Tibilisi-Stanbul-Budapest-Skarżysko route. Are these overly bold plans? Bold, certainly, but by all means realistic and feasible, as they are supported by all the conditions, both internal and external.
It should be remembered that recent years have seen the construction of new terminals (e.g. in Małaszewicze, Narewka, Ełk and Łapy) and the expansion of existing terminals. In addition, many projects are in the phase of preparing documentation. Their visions for the operation of intermodal terminals are very promising and their establishment and development may come true. As we read in the publication “Directions of Intermodal Transport Development until 2030 with an Outlook To 2040 – a modern intermodal terminal should not just be a transhipment location, but a starting point for offering a wide range of services and supported transport technologies. At present several locations in Europe have logistics centres with rail access, which include sorting plants, warehousing facilities or customs warehousing facilities next to transhipment terminals. At these locations, complementary services (e.g. freight forwarding, warehousing and transhipment) are provided, which are often offered by a number of independent operators and, using innovative IT solutions, allow them to sell their services on a comprehensive basis in a single transaction. This kind of locally concentrated multi-organisational joint activities facilitate the use of intermodal transport and, in addition, reduces the costs of evaluating bids and placing orders for intermodal transport and controlling their execution.” Such a visionary, barrier-free view of the operation of intermodal terminals seems to be the response to the current challenges, including those on our own doorstep of the Świętokrzyskie region