For the last decade, deregulation of the rail freight market has been an important issue in European policy. One of the main objectives of the European Union is the integration of national rail markets into a both economically and technically harmonised European rail freight market.
From an economic point of view, the general observation is that liberalisation takes place at a slow pace. The rail sector still has a backlog compared with other network industries, such as telecommunications or the energy sector.
What is interesting is the difference in the liberalisation progress between the countries of the European Union. Differences in the level of liberalisation in the European Union have an impact on different stakeholders in the railway chain like railway companies and rail operators, or actors with a public and regulatory task like governments, infrastructure managers, and sea port authorities.
Since liberalisation took place, the infrastructure manager is separated from railway companies. If an infrastructure manager is still linked to a national railway company, he may hinder non-discriminatory access to infrastructure for new railway companies.
Besides this institutional barrier, there is also a technical barrier for new entrants. Technical barriers arise from the lack of functional and network-related interoperability between the countries (for instance, different traction voltage and traffic management systems). The differences in liberalisation progress between European countries affect also the level playing field between sea ports, being important knots in rail infrastructure networks.
Good accessibility of a port by railway transport is an important determinant in port competition nowadays. However, ports in highly liberalised countries face coordination problems in allocating its scarce railway track. The infrastructure manager has to allocate its train paths to several railway companies.
For ports in low liberalised countries, less coordination problems arise; the government has still more power.
What is the role of port authorities in establishing good connections by rail? These add up to the complexity of a European Union liberalised market.
The Shipping and Ports industry is extremely capital intensive. Well thought-out capital allocation decisions are essential to maintain competitiveness.
Investments in ships, infrastructure, ports, warehouses and terminals requires a high level of working capital to be spent on new assets, replacements and maintenance. Developments in the environment make asset management more and more complex.
Management must cope with major challenges such as achieving higher asset utilisation, decreasing capital and operational expenditures, managing risks efficiently and weighing the options for all stakeholders.
Asset (lifecycle) management is the process of establishing an operating environment under which capital returns are improved through effective management of risks inherent in owning, managing and operating a large asset base. Companies may be an asset owner, asset manager, service provider, or some combination of these roles.
Companies need to take care to assess the expected benefits of spending (e.g. improvement of financial performance, availability, improvement of environmental performance of health and safety issues) to ensure that the right investments are made. They also need to be prepared to document to stakeholders how these investments create and increase value.
Increasing transparency, decreasing cost, improving reliability and availability of assets and improving on performance in health, safety and environment are key goals of a considered approach to asset management.