What are some critical innovations for improving port-hinterland connectivity?

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Imagine landing in the wee hours of the morning into Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport in Kolkata, India. As you leave the airport in a taxi, you find yourself stuck in heavy traffic and this at 4:00am in the morning! It does not take long to realize that you are sharing the roads with other early rising passengers riding in cars and buses, but also with a long queue of freight trucks, which seem to be the majority of vehicles along the road. Why are so many freight trucks winding through the city center? You soon learn from the taxi driver that some of the trucks are heading to, or coming from the famous ‘Barabazar’ market, but others are heading towards Kolkata port.

As your taxi leaves the line of trucks behind, you realize that you could be in any port-city in India or, for that matter, in China, USA or Europe. The types and number of trucks, and the freight carried may vary, but the challenges of port-generated traffic affecting the city hinterland is common. Of course, urban mobility solutions are multi-dimensional and usually include complementary strategies, investments and actors. However, the root cause of port-generated city traffic is simply a product of conventional port planning.

In Kolkata, the problem of port-generated traffic could get worse with the completion of the Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor and National Waterway 1 (Jal Marg Vikas project). However, thanks to an innovative port-hinterland connectivity solution, supported by the World Bank, the ports of Kolkata and Haldia will dramatically increase their capacity while solving the issue of port-generated traffic. This is great news for the many truck drivers, who can often take a whole night just to get in queue to enter the port.

Conventional Port Planning

Conventional port planning is mostly carried out from a maritime perspective. Importance is placed on good maritime access, deep draught, and land availability on the quay. Traditionally, hinterland connectivity is not a priority in port planning. In the absence of holistic transport planning, ports are accessed through busy city centers - resulting in heavy road congestion. Moreover, most freight trains destined for the port might have to share passenger lines. And lack of appropriate inland waterway vessels means that waterways transport is not often considered a viable option for hinterland connectivity. Ultimately, all this contributes to port inefficiency, severe traffic jams around the port, high logistics costs and underutilized infrastructure assets.

The solution therefore lies in innovative approaches for port hinterland connectivity.

Why should the port be involved?

A recent report produced by the OECD/International Transport Forum states the problem clearly: no matter how much capacity your port can handle, it cannot be utilized to its full potential as long as “the connecting road or rail network is not equipped to handle similar cargo volumes”. Bottlenecks can exist at any point of the supply chain and anywhere along the transport and logistics chain until goods reach the end user. Full efficiency can only be achieved if all stakeholders, including port managers, coordinate their efforts.

In addition, the rise of containerization has led to easier movement of goods, and with advancing intermodal capabilities, the physical hinterland of the port is expanding. As a result, different ports such as Rotterdam, Antwerp, and Duisburg now have overlapping hinterlands. Since port clients can now choose from multiple ports, hinterland connectivity is an essential part of a port’s added value and services offering.
Photo: Lee Yiu Tung/Shutterstock
Solutions to Port-Hinterland Connectivity: The Extended Gate

Internationally, there are many good examples of modern port-hinterland connectivity. Ultimately, thinking of logistics as a whole is key. The connection from port to corridor to hinterland must be seamless, and this can be achieved through integrated planning, with optimal road, water and rail hinterland connections in the port area. Transport corridors to the hinterland should be multimodal, containing developed inland logistics zones that are multimodal hubs and have appropriate warehouses and other services.

One concept that is gaining popularity, for instance, is that of the extended gate. An extended gate is an inland terminal that is directly connected to the port using some means of high capacity transport. Here, port clients can drop off or pick up their containers as if they were dealing with the port directly – even though the terminal at the extended gate could be 50, 100 or even 200km away! In most cases the port controls the flow of containers to and from the inland terminal. Services such as customs are also conducted at the extended gate. The Port of Rotterdam comes to mind as an example of the utility of extended gates.

An Extended Gate for Kolkata and the Eastern Corridor

With the development of the Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor and National Waterways 1 project, container and goods traffic at the ports of Kolkata and Haldia will only increase. A team of logistics experts and researchers from the World Bank, Stellenbosh University and STC-Nestra are exploring the use of an extended gate that would allow long haul traffic to be directly evacuated from the port to an extended gate.

This would greatly decongest the city of Kolkata, as long haul traffic makes up about 40% of the freight entering the ports. Multi-modal connectivity would lead to new opportunities for rail and waterway investments, and other services such as stuffing and un-stuffing of containers. Consolidation and cargo inspection could also take place at the extended gate, freeing up space at the port and leading to reduced congestion.

In order for trade to continue growing in the future, port-hinterland connectivity must become a part of port strategy, planning and management. In this context, the port is part of the greater logistics chain where logistics and multimodal transport corridor issues are considered in parallel. The extended gate provides a great opportunity to increase port capacity and improve transportation of goods between the port and the hinterland.
With the easing of congestion in the city of Kolkata, truck drivers will no longer have to wait for an entire day just to enter the port and pick up goods. This should greatly help them and millions of other commuters!


Bernard Aritua

Senior Infrastructure Specialist

Woon Lyn Esther Chiew

Consultant, Transport & ICT

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