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In conversation with: BCT Gdynia

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Baltic Container Terminal (BCT) Gdynia is a critical multimodal transport node in central Europe and one of the largest container terminals in the Baltic region.

An International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (ICTSI) facility, BCT at the Port of Gdynia has seen demand soar in recent years with Poland’s growth in global trade.

“Polish international trade has developed dynamically since its entrance to the European Union,” Piotr Frąckowiak, Intermodal Manager at BCT Gdynia, told Port Technology International.

The nation’s entrance to the EU has resulted in a fivefold growth of its global trade in the past 16 years: Poland is now one of the largest export centres in Europe, Frąckowiak outlined.

COVID-19 influence?

BCT Gdynia was resilient throughout the pandemic, observing just a two-month slow down in spring 2020 to then return to regular levels of traffic.

Rail transport is a central factor in daily operations at the terminal, with 30% of rail traffic accounting for the BCT’s annual throughput.

© BCT Gdynia

“The global supply players prefer to set up their supply chains on intermodal services [that] are much more stable and predictable than a very whimsical truck market,” he said.

For 2021, BCT will best its yearly TEU record, closing on around 570,000 TEU.

“We can observe more and more shuttle trains arriving to our terminal with full space contracted by shippers,” Frąckowiak added. “This is very favourable for our terminals first due to high and stable volume but also due to its regularity and predictability.”

Currently, every month BCT processes 250 intermodal trains operated by 13 separate operators. Gdynia port station, the rail terminal at the hub, is bolstering its infrastructure, with improvements due to be completed in 2023.

BCT has already invested in an automatic rail gate system, Frąckowiak commented, with a new operational scheme on the way for improved coordination. “There is a lot of space to increase our capacity in that field,” he said.

The improvements have borne fruit for the container operator: in June 2021 intermodal operator Loconi launched a container train service between the Port of Koper and BCT.

Global advancements

Poland had a long tradition of being served by west European port hubs like Hamburg, Bremerhaven or Rotterdam directly in the container industry, Frąckowiak argued.

“For many years Hamburg was called the biggest Polish port. For long time it was a challenge for our ports to take back our own Polish foreign container trade. Now we are succeeding in this,” he said.

Looking towards 2022 and beyond, BCT Gdynia aims to connect its landlocked neighbours the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary. “There are also some ideas to connect Ukraine to Polish ports by intermodal trains giving the alternative to Black Sea ports and difficult uncertain political situations,” he added.

A continued trend towards rail transport away from the trucking sector would be a positive progression for BCT. By the end of 2022, the terminal anticipates serving more rail wagons and beating its record of rail transshipment of 170,000 TEU achieved in 2012 and 2014.

“We expect to receive more and more regular shuttle trains packed up to the roof of the containers from not only all main Polish destinations – but also transit locations,” Frąckowiak noted.

Data-sharing and digitalisation

Over a year ago BCT joined the EU-backed COMODALCE project, designed to improve intermodal rail operations.

The title ‘COMODALCE’ is an abbreviation of the project’s principal objective defined as: ‘Enhancing COordination in multiMODAL freight transport in Central Europe.’

The thrust of the project is the integration of BCT’s TOS with the INCOS element of the wider Gdynia Port Community System (PCS).

INCOS has two layers of integration: external integration which consists of 10 integration communications covering the whole process. INCOS was initially integrated into the temrinal’s two biggest operators’ systems, covering 70% of all rail volume received at BCT, the Intermodal Manager explained.

INCOS will connect with the operating systems of all stakeholders and offers an easy, flexible and low-cost method of connection that enables all parties to feed the platform with data using electronic messages.

Data can be uploaded and downloaded without long waiting times or the requirement to rewrite the data.

Frąckowiak said the common communication platform was implemented on 1 February this year and now all trains arriving to BCT proceed through the digitalised platform.

“This is an innovative tool on the Polish market which puts intermodal services on the highest technological level. Intermodal operators, railway carriers, freight forwarders, shipping lines and terminals transfer their data into the platform and receive the follow up there online,” he explained. “This decrease communication and handling costs improves the reliability of data and speeds up the whole process.”

“System integration is the preferred means of communication,” he added.

“The internal layer is the integration with our TOS which is set up as batch integration, sending specially prepared information about all containers every five minutes.

“INCOS picks up the data and proceeds to calculate action status, readiness and moves.”

Frąckowiak said the biggest challenge was to overcome the problem of the very large complexity of the intermodal process and limitation of the terminal’s TOS.