Ľubomír Loy talks about the new Silk Road
Is Slovakia managing to keep its position as a transit country for railway transport?
Despite being a transit country for railway transport, the issue is that we are not able to benefit from this fact and we are not able to attract new transport flows.
What do you mean by that?
On the one hand, we are quite strong in transporting raw materials for the metallurgical industry, but on the other hand we significantly lag behind other countries in the field of intermodal transport. The volume of such transport has always been minimal here. The situation when we welcomed at least one train a week from China did not last for long. Today we are at “point zero”, and so far, there has been no indication that this situation will change any time soon. But if it does not change soon, we are going to lose our chance to compete with neighbouring countries. I will just add that after the markets opened up, we could also have lost our position in transporting raw materials for the metallurgical industry. The reason is that, geographically, Slovakia does not have a significantly strategic transport position. Fortunately, this was not the case, we did not lose this business, mainly due to the fact that the BUDAMAR GROUP made significant investments into innovation and the modernization of transshipment technology in Čierna nad Tisou.
Let´s get back to intermodal transport. China has been investing billions of euros in order to restore the Silk Road. Thanks to this, hundreds or even thousands of trains were said to pass through Slovakia further into Europe. That's what the government's plan claimed back in 2017...
However, this plan is far from having been fulfilled.
Could the Covid-19 pandemic contribute to this situation in particular?
Definitely not, but it might just have been an issue for a very short period of time. Rather, the issue is that intermodal trains need government support, just like in our neighbouring countries. The Chinese side is pushing down the price, but it will not be possible to secure this trade without aid from state institutions. The support from the Ministry of Transport is only marketing and advisory support. We lack financial aid – as it is provided in other EU countries. We are one of the last countries in Europe with no state support. Currently, we are in negotiations, particularly with the Ministry of Transport.
Why do the neighboring countries support intermodal transport and we do not?
The obvious reason is that each flow of goods that goes through a country brings revenue from infrastructure usage fees. In Poland or Hungary, they are well aware of this and these countries intensely support intermodal transport.
For example, by creating new lines. They also support the purchase of new wagons or the building of new freight terminals. Those are under construction, for example, in Hungary. In Poland, in addition to the Belarusian crossing, the Ukrainian crossing is becoming important, too.
In Slovakia, does no support of intermodal transport take place?
So far, the support here has been minimal. This is evidenced by the fact that we are not able to attract lines from China through the Combined Transport Terminal in Dobrá. It was built a long time ago, but for most of its life it has remained almost empty.
Do we still have a chance to compete with Hungarians or Poles and make the Silk Road go through Slovakia as well?
Although it is already “five minutes after midnight”, so to speak, the current situation can still be changed. It is essential to intensify relations with China, because China will give preference to countries which are its business partners. It is also necessary to set up a financial system of intermodal transport support. It would be enough to base it on how these trains support – or plan to support in the future – our competitors; the Poles and Hungarians.
The key priority of the BUDAMAR GROUP is to develop and support rail freight transport. Is that still true?
Yes, because we see rail transport in Slovakia and in the neighbouring countries as the transport option with the greatest economic and mainly ecological potential with huge opportunities to increase efficiency. This priority is in line with the strategy of developing and increasing the importance of railway transport, not only in the Slovak Republic, but also within the European Union. Finally, I must not forget to mention that in 2021 we celebrate the European Year of Railways.