The hub of Europe

As Belgium’s largest inland port, the Port of Liege is an important hub for traffic throughout Europe. It is located on the River Meuse at the centre of the world’s most extensive river network – the 20,000-kilometre Rhine-Schelde-Meuse basin – and lies in close proximity to some of Europe’s most important seaports including Antwerp, Rotterdam, Zeebruges and Dunkirk.

To deepen the connections between these ports, the Liege Port Authority (LPA) is currently engaged in the Trilogiport project that will make transfer between sites a more seamless process.

CEO of LPA, Emile-Louis Bertrand, explains the basic services provided by the port and organisation itself: “The Port of Liege’s first rate facilities are linked to the Liege region’s outstanding river, road, rail and airport network. LPA is admirably suited for loading, unloading, and storage. It is also capable of handling all types of goods including construction materials, ores, chemicals, bulk goods and general merchandise as well as steel, agricultural produce, petroleum products and containers. The port itself is accessible to sea-going vessels of up to 2500 tonnes and convoys of up to 4500 tonnes when propelled by two barges.”

The LPA is a governing body that currently manages 32 ports (370 hectares) located along the river Meuse and the Albert Canal. It also manages two container terminals; the first in Renory managed by Liege Container Terminal and the other in Port of Monsin operated by Euroports. Both container terminals offer container shuttles between Liege and the North Sea ports such as Antwerp, Rotterdam and Zeebruges.

Whilst LPA offers international short sea shipping services from Liege, the most important function is its inter-port transferrals. Over the last few years the authority has been involved with Trilogiport, a conceptual and multimodal platform that will strengthen this cross-port relationship between the inland port of Liege and the seaports of Antwerp, Rotterdam and Dunkirk.

“The link between major seaports and their inland counterparts used to be overlooked,” comments Emile-Louis, “but inland ports are now acknowledged as playing an increasingly important role in the logistical chain. This has been underscored by the extended gateways theory developed by the Flanders Institute for Logistics (VIL). Located 14 navigation hours from Antwerp and 24 hours from Rotterdam, the Port of Liege is regarded as a strategic hub for the seamless provision of goods to the hinterland. LPA aims to guarantee a seamless system of distribution downstream through closer co-operation between the ports.”

A European Economic Interest Group (EEIG) has been created between LPA, Antwerp Port and Liege Province Economic Development Agency (SPI+) with the primary function of promoting Trilogiport’s three key assets. Firstly, sea access routes from Antwerp, Rotterdam and Dunkirk, secondly the use of integrated water, rail and road modes of transport and finally, opportunities in the bordering French, Germany and Dutch markets.

The project will also see the creation of new facilities across 100 hectares of available space located along the Albert Canal. At the heart of this development is the creation of a 40-hectare logistical plot to be managed by two companies – German business Deutsche Lagerhaus Trilogiport, responsible for 30 hectares, and Belgian firm Warehouses de Pauw responsible for the remaining ten. Furthermore, a 15-hectare container terminal co-run by Euroports and Dubai Ports World that will be accessible by water, road and rail will also be constructed along the canal, complete with installed equipment for handling loading and unloading duties.

This project is a pioneering concept on the continent, seen as a test for the creation of future European distribution centres. As such it is likely to become a powerful attraction for many logistical firms. “We want to attract companies that bring added value to the goods in our port and therefore create employment,” Emile-Louis explains. “The Trilogiport platform will definitely play an important role in this perspective because it will enable container traffic through the region to increase.” With an expected opening date sometime in mid-2013, Trilogiport will remain LPA’s central focus for the coming years.

Having felt the impact of the financial crisis, with the 17 per cent decrease in global traffic being reflected in the Port of Liege’s own activity, 2010 saw a renewed vigour for LPA. Last year, the authority handled more than 21 million tonnes of cargo, an increase of 15 per cent or three million tonnes from 2009. This result not only ranks as the third best year for the port after pre-crisis boom years of 2007 and 2008, but also placed it as the third largest inland port in the whole of Europe after Duisbourg and Paris.

Spurred on by these encouraging results, LPA looks towards the future with great confidence not only in the Port of Liege continuing to grow, but also in the success of Trilogiport. Emile-Louis concludes with this positive outlook: “The Port of Liege now aspires to prove itself as a facility ideally located in the natural hinterland of major seaports, and to be recognised as the key inland waterway for logistics in the region. Trilogiport, too, is an important project that we look forward to developing, together with our partners, over the forthcoming years.”

One of Europe’s largest inland ports

Strong connections with major seaports

Involved with pioneering cargo hub concept