The need for speed
The trouble is that these are not yet established routes, but projects that exist only on paper.
If for some reason the existing plans ran into long delays and less than enthusiastic government support, the corridors would have to be reconsidered. This is now the danger Slovenia faces. Progress on big infrastructure projects has been slow traditionally and this is now compounded by the financial crisis.
How not to do it
As a potential high growth sector, logistics services are a strategic focus of the Slovenian government. Consequently there is no shortage of plans by Slovenian logistics companies to expand their capacities; unfortunately there is also no shortage of blunders.
One such blunder was, without a doubt, the construction of Čehov, a new logistic center recently erected by Intereuropa, one of the country’s leading logistics companies, near Moscow. Much hope was put into this project; it was to be the biggest strategic expansion for the company in recent years. But, as often happens, when ambitions exceed talent, the resulting outcome is unfavorable.
Under the watch of Andrej Lovšin, Intereuropa’s former CEO, the cost of the project, once estimated to be EUR 40, m ballooned to EUR 100 m. It is no wonder then that the company expects to show heavy losses in its half-yearly business results. To add insult to injury, Intereuropa is now in the process of being sued by the former Intereuropa-East CEO Esad Ajeti who was also responsible for the Čehov mess. The reason may be his severance pay though he has already denied this. In any case 2009 will probably be one of the darkest years for the company.
The crown jewel
The logistics sector in Slovenia relies heavily on the port of Koper. The annual volume of cargo handled has been growing steadily year on year In 2008 the throughput figure was 16 million tons of cargo. However, if the port is to achieve its full potential, it must still develop and expand.
Drafting of the national spatial plan for the port is nearly completed and will soon be unveiled, enabling the stakeholders to mould their different ambitions into a tangible goal. The plans to be unveiled will include the building of the third pier on the northern side of the port. This plan is not new and has been controversial because it extends into the nearby salt meadows which form part of the EU environmental protection programme Natura 2000 and are a home to an impressive range of biotic diversity. The new pier will be exclusively used for containers and mooring will only be possible on the south, port side, respecting the protected area.
Further port enhancements include a five storey warehouse for cars; an extended second pier with state-of-the-art warehouses for dry bulk and liquid bulk cargoes and new shore tanks for oil derivatives. In the future, the first pier will be used mainly for containers, following the global trends in container shipping.
With the new central clearance law of the EU, the import tax collected on the goods destined for any EU country will be split in two ways; 75 percent will go into the EU budget, while the remaining 25 percent will be split by the country that collected the tax and the country of destination. This law was proposed during the Slovenian Presidency of the EU council and is viewed favorably by Slovenia as the port will be a big source of income for the country.
Focus on the Railways
Both of the European transport corridors that pass through Slovenia need massive investment in their infrastructure. In Slovenia, the railway infrastructure is the biggest problem. The trains run on the same tracks that they used a century ago. This simply will not do. The network is so out of date that it must be completely redesigned.
A second railway track from Koper to Divača would go a long way to relieve the congested route linking the port of Koper with its hinterland. An optimum 160 km/h speed must be achieved throughout the main railway routes, not to mention an increase in track load bearing capacities.
The funds needed for this are immense. According to modernization plans the total cost is projected to be EUR 8,884 m. This amount cannot be raised by Slovenia alone. The best solution would be to find a strategic partner. There are already talks of a Deutsche Bahn - Slovenian railways partnership which could solve the problem. However, critics point out that Slovenia could lose key strategic assets in the process. This is a realistic fear because potential foreign partners would probably insist that the offer on the Slovenian side must include the bulk of Slovenia’s logistics sector, including the icing on the cake, the Port of Koper.