Water transport disrupted by war and drought last year

Posted by Bíró Koppány Ajtony

Road and rail transport decreased as well, only intermodal turnover grew

Compared to 2021 less goods were transported on shorter routes in Hungary, water transport suffered the biggest decline with 26 %, but rail and road performed less as well, primarily because of the war situation and the drought.

At the same time intermodal transport, which combines several modes of transport to deliver the goods to the final destination, was able to grow – according to the survey conducted by the Association of Hungarian Logistics Service Centres (MLSZKSZ), which was introduced during the 13th Transport Logistics Conference in Herceghalom on Thursday… Due to the insecure economic conditions it is difficult this year to make a prognosis about the expected performance of goods transport.  In intermodal transport MLSZKSZ anticipates a turnover similar to last year’s output.

Domestic goods transport did not have a good year last year: economic problems, soaring energy prices, inflation, the Russian-Ukrainian war and the drought resulted in crop losses, which then led to a fall in freight transport in Hungary. The total volume of road, rail and water transport (261 million tonnes) diminished by 6 %, their output (52 billion tonne-kilometres) fell back by 0,5 % compared to 2021 on the basis of the preliminary statistics.

The Russian-Ukrainian war restricts the Silk Road traffic between Asia and Europe to the border between Poland and Belarus bypassing Hungary. To make matters worse, the rising Russian-Chinese trade led to a shortage of capacity on the trans-Siberian railway. At the same time the war brought about a new transport direction: both the Ukrainian import and export traffic started between the Adriatic ports and Ukraine however, it was severely hit in November as a consequence of the attacks against the Ukrainian infrastructure. In Europe the disorganised modernisations /renovations made railway transport less competitive, moreover the increased energy prices were added to this, which hit the railways harder. Therefore, the earlier trend reversed and part of the traffic was diverted to the roads.

International traffic is growing on the roads

Last year 7.1% less goods were transported by road in Hungary than in 2021, at the same time the distance of transports increased slightly by 0.2 %. There was a sharp decrease in domestic road transport, which could only slightly be balanced by the fact that in international transports both the transported tonnes and distances grew. The competitiveness of the roads improved as the rise in the energy costs of domestic rail haulage was higher than the EU average.

Figure1.  Total Hungarian goods traffic output per tonne transported in 2022. (Sources: KSH and MLSZKSZ)

Figure 2. Total Hungarian goods traffic output per tonne-km of goods in 2022. (Sources: KSH and MLSZKSZ)


Grain imports assisted the railways

Considering railway transports, the trends were contrary to those of road transports last year.  Both transported tonnes and kilometres diminished internationally, however, in Hungary the situation was just the contrary, as the volume as well as the distance of the transported traffic grew domestically. The reason for this was the drought – there was a record-low cereal harvest, therefore Hungary had to import cereals, which led to a more than threefold growth in both volume and value in the first 9 months of 2022, according to the Institute of Agricultural Economics. Primarily Ukrainian cereals got into the Hungarian mills, which improved the performance of Hungarian railways, therefore the volume of goods carried by rail fell slightly less (by 1.3%) than road transport.

According to the figures of the National Tax and Customs Administration, which were presented in the framework of the 13th Transport Logistics Conference, more than 42 thousand consignments of grain crossed the border from Ukraine to Hungary in 2023 and the transported volume exceeded 2.3 million tonnes.

Drought and war ruined water transport

The severe drought had an extremely negative impact on waterborne transport. As there was not enough grain, exports fell. Moreover, because of the war there was a lack of capacity as well. The barges transported the Ukrainian export grain from the ports of the lower Danube section. Only the inland water transports grew slightly, but this could not compensate for the loss of international traffic, therefore all in all 25% less goods were transported by water than in 2021.

According to the figures of MLSZKSZ the maritime-container traffic via Hungary grew by 6.4 %.


Budapest terminals contributed to intermodal traffic growth

Intermodal transport, uniquely among the modes of transport, further expanded after its growth in 2021, and carried more than 750 thousand 20 feet TEU, mainly with the combination of railway and road transport.

Figure 3. Subsector changes in total Hungarian intermodal traffic in 2022 (Source: MLSZKSZ)

Traffic decreased at the rural terminals, caused by the Russian-Ukrainian war at Záhony, and the restructuring of traffic in Sopron. The intermodal transport, which is vital for the Hungarian economy, is handled at three terminals in Budapest: BILK, BUCS and MCC. Their output grew on average by 6.9 % in 2022: loaded container traffic increased by 7.42% and empty container traffic grew by 7.58 %. The semi-trailer traffic meanwhile fell back by 0.6 % because of the increased rail traction costs.


Uncertain prospects for 2023

In the recent years Hungarian intermodal traffic has grown faster than the EU average. Now MLSZKSZ expects that this year the performance of intermodal transport remains at last year’s level.

„Various industrial developments and logistics investments have been finished, e.g., the Warehouse centre oof Danish JYSK constructed in Ecser serves several countries, the huge distribution centre of eMAG in Dunaharaszti will join the logistics processes in the second half of the year. The new investments generate more traffic, which can compensate for the losses to be expected because of the difficult economic situation – says Zsolt Fülöp, President of MLSZKSZ.

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