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European Sea Transport and Intermodalism - Consequences for Switzerland

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Complete with results
Project Acronym
B8 (NRP 41)
STRIA Roadmaps
Network and traffic management systems (NTM)
Transport mode
Multimodal icon
Transport sectors
Freight transport


Background & Policy context

The NRP 41 was launched by the Federal Council at the end of 1995 to improve the scientific basis on which Switzerland's traffic problems might be solved, taking into account the growing interconnection with Europe, ecological limits, and economic and social needs. The NRP 41 aimed to become a think-tank for sustainable transport policy. Each one of the 54 projects belongs to one of the following six modules:

  • A Mobility: Socio-institutional Aspects
  • B Mobility: Socio-economical Aspects
  • C Environment: Tools and Models for Impact Assessments
  • D Political and Economic Strategies and Prerequisites
  • E Traffic Management: Potentials and Impacts
  • F Technologies: Potentials and Impacts
  • M Materials
  • S Synthesis Projects
  1. To describe the present strategies of maritime operators and the evolution trend in the maritime transport as a consequence of the diffusion of the container technology;
  2. to analyse the development of the Italian ports after the port reform and to compare it with the Northern Range ports;
  3. to assess the container traffic from and to the European ports across the Alps;
  4. to determine the impact of the ongoing evolution in container sea transport on the hinterland freight traffic across the Alps and evaluate its aspects on the ecological and transportation level.
  1. Description and statistical analysis of the Italian ports' development after the 1994 port reform.
  2. Statistical analysis to assess the container traffic from and to the European ports across the Alps.
  3. Determining the impact of freight traffic across the Alps by three possible scenarios:
    scenario I: persistence of the dominant position of the Northern European ports;
    scenario II: the alpine mountain chain builds a natural division between the catchment areas of the ports north and south of the Alps;
    scenario III: the expansion of the catchment areas of Mediterranean ports north of the Alps.


Parent Programmes
Institution Type
Public institution
Institution Name
Swiss National Science Foundation SNF
Type of funding
Public (national/regional/local)


Development of Italian ports

Through the changes of the Italian port reform 1994, the Italian ports have reached the necessary conditions to operate efficiently, according to the standard of best practice. The cost of each container movement could be reduced by two thirds and is more or less the same as in the ports of Northern Europe. The container hub of Gioia Tauro is located very close to the principal route for the deep-sea container vessels between the Suez Canal and Gibraltar. This geographical position is of strategic importance, in particular, in the Far East container market. It can be reached by a minimum diversion from the main route and permits a significant time saving with regard to the Northern Range ports, creating a new situation in the European container traffic.

Container traffic from and to the European ports across the Alps

The total port related freight traffic across the Alps is less than 7.425 Million tons. The freight traffic volume from or to the European ports across the Alps accounts for about 5% of the whole freight traffic across the Alps. The share of the railway might be particular high, because of the considerable bundling effect of ports, which explains the increasing interest shown by the railway companies.


The scenario, in which the alpine mountain chain builds a natural divide between the catchment areas of the ports north and south of the Alps (Scenario II), is the most probable. Therefore, the container flows across the Alps might decrease in coming years with some positive environmental effects. However, the ecological benefits should not be overestimated, since they derive from a reduced volume of railway traffic. However, a substantial quantitative change in these container flows across the Alps may not be expected in the short and medium term.

Policy implications

Bottlenecks in railway infrastructures and, more recently, lacking quality in railway service jeopardise considerably the opportunities for Italian port's further expansion. Since they depend strongly on railway given the modal split in the hinterland between 30% and 50%. Therefore new railway infrastructures are the backbone for further growth in Italian ports. In particular the new railway tunnel through the Apennines on the mountain side of Genoa (Terzo Valico) is fundamental as well as the connecting line to the port of Gioia Tauro. Only in the long term might Italian ports expand their market area north of the Alps and give new impetus to the container flow across the Alps. This demands overcoming the bottlenecks in the railway infrastructure and the operational difficulties as well as regaining the trust on the part of the shippers and forwarders north of the Alps.


Key Findings
No results directly relevant to this theme. However, please note that some findings relevant to the project's key theme (Intermodal) are generically applicable.

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Policy Implications


Lead Organisation
EU Contribution
Partner Organisations
EU Contribution


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