Freight transport plan to link Eastern Europe

Related tags Eastern europe European union

An ambitious transport project set to provide a high-speed goods
link across Eastern Europe later this year will form the backbone
of the EU's transport integration plan, making the region a more
attractive base for food producers and suppliers, writes Chris

Operation Polcorridor, run by the pan-European research and development group Eureka, has been selected by the EU to form the base of its Reorient project aimed at integrating member states' fragmented railway networks.

The move gives top-level recognition to Polcorridor, which should have Europe's most advanced transport corridor, running between Scandinavia and the Balkans, in place within the next year.

The final Polcorridor system will be made up of three parts: sea-land connections from Sweden, Finland and Norway to hubs in Poland; a regularly scheduled block train - the Blue Shuttle - linking Szczecin/Swinoujscie and Gdansk in Poland with Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest; and existing land connections to destinations in most of south and south-eastern Europe.

"The freight supply network goes via countries on the brink of substantial economic development, such as Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Romania,"​ said project proposer Dr. Johanna Ludvigsen, Chief Research Officer at Norway's Institute of Transport Economics.

"Some people may say that it is too early for such a corridor. I believe we must be ready with a functional infrastructure to promote economic growth and the ensuing increase in freight traffic that is certain to continue in these Eastern European economies,"​ she said.

North-south freight alone in Eastern Europe has risen 20 per cent in the last five years and the new infrastructure could make the whole region more attractive to food firms by improving access and reducing logistics costs.

Back in January, the EU Commission also promised to allocate €52 million to improve transport links in the ten accession states as part of a €620 million package to assess and construct trans-European transport links.

Around 60 per cent of European firms' logistics costs come from transport, and road haulage expenses can be expected to increase further as fuel costs rise on the back of high oil prices and the EU adopts tougher emissions limits for lorries as part of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

Poor transport infrastructure was recently blamed by the EU Commission as one reason why Hungary, the Czech republic and Poland have had difficulty selling their large grain surpluses from last year's harvest when faced with competition from France and Germany.

An improved transport network across Eastern Europe will also help the growing number of food firms that have both increased their presence, and moved into, the region.

Last year, the UK cake maker Inter Link bought a factory in northwest Poland with plans to service both Britain and neighbouring European countries. And only a few weeks ago, food industry giant Masterfoods announce it would re-locate production of its Starburst sweets brand, previously Opal Fruits, to Eastern Europe.

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