Who Care(x)es?

Even though the pan-European Euro Carex association which was set up in 2009 with the aim of transporting air cargo containers between major European airports over the high-speed rail network, so far neither rail ports nor trains are operational today. The project is, however, not dead.  The Belgian member of the association, Liege Carex, has entered into the last phase of investigation.

The ambitious and environmentally friendly Carex project remains in limbo  / source: Carex
The ambitious and environmentally friendly Carex project remains in limbo / source: Carex

Jean-Pierre Grafé, chairman of Liège Carex, is convinced that the trans-European project will bring the necessary leverage for both employment and the further economic development of the Liège region. Last February the two last studies needed for the Belgian leg of the project to take off – an environmental impact assessment and a study on soil investigation – were launched. Hopes are high that an application for a building permit can be submitted before the end of 2014.

Mr Grafé is a dyed-in-the-wool politician, who has won his spurs in the regional government of Wallonia. And politics are never far off in Belgium, especially when both on the regional and the national level elections are looming no later than 25 May. In Wallonia, which had to suffer the decline of both its coal mining and steel industry over the last three decades, logistics is seen as the main tool for development and renewed prosperity. The initiatives in this respect are looked upon with great suspicion in Flanders, which has always considered itself to be on the donating end of the inter-Belgian subvention schemes. A considerable amount of the workforce at Liege Airport is, however, recruited in the neighbouring multi-lingual and multi-cultural Flemish province of Limburg.

Jean-Pierre Grafé  /  source: private
Jean-Pierre Grafé / source: private

Liege is eager to get the go for Carex
Liege Airport is one of the original members of Euro Carex, together with Paris-CDG, Lyon, Amsterdam Schiphol and London-Heathrow. Since the end of 2013 Liege has been recognised by the European Union as a multi-modal platform on the junction of two major logistics corridors, North Sea-Baltic and Rhine-Alps, of which the rail ports are an integral part. A recognition which also brings in European co-funding, covering 50% of the €2.2m needed for the last two studies.
For Liege, Carex airport operator SOWAER has reserved a 22 ha site, on which the actual 200 m long rail freight station will be built. It will enable the handling of two trains simultaneously. A smaller building will house the facilities for cargo inspection, guaranteeing compliance with the regulation concerning cargo traffic through the Chunnel. The connection of this rail port with the high-speed rail network, will be provided with a ‘classical’ link.


So far, Carex remains being a ‘paper tiger’
The other participating airports have developed schemes of their own. Paris-CDG is planning a 110 ha site, to be developed in various phases. Together with Liege Airport CDG is presenting itself as a ‘hub’ in the Carex network. Amsterdam, on the other hand, has opted for a ‘spoke’-status and is still analyzing the investments needed in this respect. Lyon is another spoke in the system, still concentrating on the tender concerning a two-phase study on the handling of the ULD’s. Above all, Lyon wants this project to be as low-cost as possible. Like Liège, Lyon Airport will be connected to the French HSR network by a classical line.
Within the Carex project, London Carex is looking closely into the rolling stock. In view of a ‘rapid’ launch of the project and at a lower cost, the option seems to move into the direction of converted HS passenger trains, copying the concept of passenger plane-to-freighter conversions.


Politicians shall speed up the project
The most obvious beneficiaries of the Carex network are the integrators and major air freight carriers. So when, in 2007, the locations for the development of the first phase of the network were identified, Cologne was on the list. Today, however, there is no such thing as a Carex Cologne member of the association. “For us, the project does not provide any added value,” states Managing Director Michael Garvens. 
The absence of the European hub of UPS and an important sub-hub for FedEx, is quite inconvenient. That is the reason why the Belgian Federal Chamber of Deputies has unanimously voted in favour of a resolution urging Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo to approach the German government to revive some sort of genuine interest in the Carex project.


Marcel Schoeters