When you analysed the position of rail transport a few years ago, you noted that the situation is complicated due to a large number of transport companies competing for a relatively small amount of goods under conditions of economic stagnation. What kind of rating would you give it today?
– The position for rail transport services on the European market has become even tougher in recent years. New competitors are emerging on the market, who carry out transport services with their own locomotives and wagons. And in doing this they often focus on existing jobs, without striving to obtain new transport. The only response to new market challenges is the better quality of our services, new products, an orientation towards customers and the optimisation of business processes.
SŽ-Cargo prioritises the client in the first place, attempting to monitor their needs and the demands of the market. In cooperation with other companies from the Slovenian Railways group, as well as other business partners, we provide our customers with comprehensive logistical services. Thus, in addition to the transport of goods in classical and combined transport, railways also cover freight forwarding services that can be organised via our company Fersped, as well as warehousing, goods’ protection and cleaning – and we can organise these services through enterprise SŽ-ŽGP (Railway for Disabled Persons, and the transport of small parcels and door-todoor delivery through our SŽ Express product. Our significant advantage is certainly a wide partnership network of carriers in other countries, as well as sister companies within the Slovenian Railways group. Testifying to the success of our endeavours is the fact that the quantity of goods we transport is growing year-on-year.
How dependent in the planning of your growth and development are you on the parameters imposed by real influences, or the decisions of the countries in which you operate to engage and invest in their own railway networks?
– The state of railway infrastructure is among the necessary prerequisites for providing quality transport services. Unfortunately, we have to admit that the situation in the region is far from optimal. In Slovenia we also have more sections with axle loads that are too low and limitations in terms of the maximum length of trains. We should add to this numerous sections of single-track railway lines, especially between Koper and Divača, as well as numerous maintenance works. It is precisely due to infrastructure constraints that we are taking measures aimed at maximising the volume of transport and the quality of services under the given conditions. We are constantly striving to optimise transport processes and harmonise with our partner railroad carriers. Alongside this, we are aware of the importance of constant communication with our customers, who we inform about the state of the railway traffic 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
You operate on the markets of Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bosnia’s Republika Srpska, Montenegro, Macedonia, Greece, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Turkey, all in the function of utilising the natural link between Central and Southeast Europe. To what extent does a lack of political stability in the region reflect on the jobs you do?
– The political situation has no impact on the job. For our company, the former European Corridor 10, which passes through the republics of the former Yugoslavia, is very important, as is the Serbian market. We have exceptional cooperation with all railroad carriers along this corridor. I would particularly like to highlight our cooperation with company Srbija Kargo, which is one of our key business partners in the region. We must not forget that the potential for acquiring new goods for railway transport is very high, considering the fact that railroad goods transport between Slovenia and Serbia along the former Corridor 10 has decreased significantly since 1990. Specifically, in 1990 that rail corridor was used to transport almost 12 million tonnes of goods, while over the next four years the quantity of transported goods fell by 92 per cent. After a gradual increase in the volume of transport, it fell again due to the economic crisis of 2008, only to start gradually increasing again from 2012.
We have a great opportunity to increase the volume of transport, and in so doing we mustn’t be dependent on politics, but rather exclusively on our own possibilities and activities. In mid-February, on the basis of our initiative, the directors of rail freight carriers from Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and Montenegro met. We signed a memorandum on mutual cooperation, with which we agreed to work together to develop new quality services, as well as towards redirecting freight flows from roads to railways. In addition to this, we also agreed to notify the governments of our countries about our activities and to forward them an initiative to re-examine the possibilities of adopting appropriate financial and other measures. In many European Union countries with developed railways, railway transport companies benefit from various financial and other incentives, which increases their competitiveness significantly.
We have a great opportunity to increase the volume of transport, and in so doing we mustn’t be dependent on politics, but rather exclusively on our own possibilities and activities. In mid-February, on the basis of our initiative, the directors of rail freight carriers from Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and Montenegro met and signed a memorandum on mutual cooperation
When do you expect to see concrete results from the signed agreement?
– The first result of the meeting is the new ‘Sava Express’ product. Specifically, the regular freight train between Ljubljana and Belgrade will start transporting goods via the Ljubljana Zalog, Belgrade Ranžirna and Sremska Mitrovica stations. The new train will connect goods flows from the countries of Western and Central Europe with transports transiting Serbia. It will have an additional advantage in the possibility of adding or removing wagons in Slavonski Brod, which will enable the additionally connecting of goods flows from/to Bosnia-Herzegovina. In Ljubljana we will connect to this new train transit cargo for customers from Austria, Germany, Italy, Czech Republic and other countries in transit through Slovenia. This new product will offer customers a complete logistical solution in one place. Customers will be able to constantly monitor their shipments and remain updated regarding their current location at any time throughout the transport process.
Additional benefits of the new product include protection of shipments against theft and damage, improved reliability, the possibility of advising on the best logistics solution and the timely provision of required wagons. The Sava Express will also offer quality distribution in Slovenia and Serbia, whether that means organising railway carriers and other partners in neighbouring countries, and doorto- door delivery. Initially, the Sava Express train will be travelling in each direction three times a week. It will travel from Slovenia to Serbia on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, and from Serbia to Slovenia on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Depending on market interest, the frequency of traffic can be increased as needed.
Would you say that rail transport in conjunction with other modes of transport – whether that be the transport of freight or people – is winning or losing?
– I am convinced that rail transport has great development opportunities ahead of it. The European Union has recognised rail transport of goods and people as a driver of sustainable development, which is far more acceptable than road transport in ecological terms. We railway carriers can, through close cooperation, improve our offer in the future and converge with the expectations of our customers. If we provide them with sustainable, high-quality and commercially attractive transport and logistics services, then there is no need to worry about the future of railways.