Photo: Port of Alesund.
Photo: Port of Alesund.

Efforts continue to boost maritime cargoes

Shifting freight from road to rail and sea has long been a key goal of Norwegian policy. An analysis of the social impact of goods transport provides the first clear picture of which items are suitable for carriage by ship, and notes that incentive schemes are needed to increase maritime freight.

“Although it’s long been a goal to shift freight from road to rail and sea, the reality is that influencing the distribution of transport channels is demanding,” says Else Marie Marskar.

   Employed by the Norwegian Public Roads Administration, she has been project manager for the broad-based social analysis of goods transport.

   “The result has been frustration and brooding over the failure to make progress. There have also undoubtedly been unrealistic expectations that transferring freight can solve society’s transport challenges without knowing enough about the position in Norway.”

   The analysis was conducted by airports operator Avinor, the Public Roads Administration, the Norwegian National Rail Administration and the Norwegian Coastal Administration (NCA) in the wake of the national transport plan for 2014-23.

   Its overall goal was “to contribute to safe, environment-friendly and socio-economically efficient transport”. Transferring freight from road to rail/sea represented on target.

Learning more

Marskar was appointed project manager precisely with the aim of securing an overall view of and learning more about freight transport in Norway.

   Question addressed included which types of commodities are carried by sea, road or rail, and what determines the choice of transport modes and routes by industry and commerce.

   The report was submitted to the Ministry of Transport and Communications in September 2015, and the Storting (parliament) is due to approve a new national transport plan in 2017.

   Some 500 million tonnes of goods are moved annually in Norway. This transport work currently breaks down into 41 per cent by sea, six per cent by rail and the remaining 53 per cent by road.

   “Transport work involves both kilometres travelled and volume carried,” Marskar explains. “So the work done by a cargo ship from Bergen to Oslo is the goods shipped in tonnes multiplied by the kilometres sailed.”

   If transport to and from abroad is included, shipping provides no less than 83 per cent of “total transport work in the Norwegian area”. That reflects its dominance in Norway’s foreign trade.

Strong growth

Domestic transport by road, rail and sea has risen by an average of 3.2 per cent annually over the past 20 years, and that growth is expected to continue.

   This figure comes from the planning document for the 2018-29 national transport plan published on 1 March 2016 by Avinor, the NCA, the National Rail Administration and the Public Roads Administration.

   Chapter 7 of the national plan, which addresses freight transport, builds on the social freight analysis.

   “To ensure the transfer of volumes from road to sea, flexible, modern and frequent maritime transport services able to compete with road haulage – including over short distances – must be established,” the plan concludes.

   “Maintaining the relative share of maritime transport is at least as important as shifting freight away from the roads,” says Arve Dimmen, acting director general of the NCA.

   “All forms of goods transport are set to experience growth. In 2009-13, for example, freight handling in Norwegian ports rose by eight million tonnes a year.”

   Much of the expansion in road and air freight appears to be related to consignments where speed is a factor, such as the shipment of fresh fruit, vegetables and fish.

   Ninety per cent of the road haulage journeys in Norway cover short distances. The construction sector accounts for the largest proportion, followed by goods distribution.

Transfer potential

The freight analysis calculated that five-seven million tonnes could be shifted from road to sea/rail. As Dimmen notes, however, volume growth for each means of transport will exceed the transfer potential.


EU aims to shift more

The EU’s white book on transport calls for freight to be shifted from road to sea/rail. Thirty per cent of all goods moved more than 300 kilometres by road are to be transferred by 2030, and 50 per cent by 2050. That will have some influence on transport in Norway.

Source: Planning document for the Norwegian national transport plan.


   “While working on this, we actually arrived at a new recognition that goods carried by road or sea often can’t be compared,” says Marskar.

   “When we drew one circle for the type of freight carried by road hauliers and another for consignments sent by ship, very little overlap could be observed.”

   Asked which types of goods were best suited for transfer, she says that these are consignments starting less than 40 kilometres from a port and travelling more than 300 kilometres.

   Accordingly to the national transport plan’s planning document, one of the freight categories with the greatest transfer potential is containerised goods being moved within Norway.

   Others are timber by rail, fresh fish and other refrigerated produce for both domestic and export destinations, and rail freight related to trade with Sweden and other Baltic countries.

Inadequate data

A lack of knowledge about the realities of goods transport has not been the only problem when seeking to meet the goal of shifting freight from Norwegian roads.

   Inadequate statistics on domestic goods movements have also presented a challenge to the people involved with transport planning.

   “Many difficulties are faced in getting the data to provide an accurate picture,” explains Thorkel Askildsen, who represented the NCA in the goods transport analysis.

   “Petroleum represents a large proportion of maritime freight, for example. When oil production on the Norwegian continental shelf (NCS) declines, so do the volumes shipped – and thereby the maritime share of Norway’s overall transport market. But that doesn’t mean a shift from sea to road is taking place.

   “How much can actually be transferred while also having a socio-economically beneficial effect is difficult to determine. The potential will also change in line with the time frame used.”

   He reports that sectoral surveys have been conducted with companies in a bid to learn out more about this transfer potential.

   These studies represent a useful and important supplement to the model-based analysis, and have also helped to moderate earlier estimates for possible freight transfers.

   “Responses from the goods owners interviewed indicated that the barriers to changing their means of transport vary considerably from company to company,” says Askildsen.

   His impression is that a lot of people have had a very simplified picture of the complexity and dynamics of the transport sector – a perception which Marskar supports.

   “Those who send freight by road even when they’re next door to a port aren’t doing so because they’re not interested in the environment or in sending goods by sea,” she say.

   “They choose the best solution for their clients and their product. That’s why we must ensure maritime transport becomes more competitive.”

Making ships attractive

Askildsen, Marskar and the other representatives from the transport-related government agencies have therefore come up with some proposals to encourage a shift from road haulage.

   “We believe it’s possible to boost maritime freight through incentive schemes,” explains Askildsen, and says that one suggestion is directed at shipping companies.

   “This involves developing new transport offers or upgrading existing ones. An important reason why many choose road haulage is that maritime services are too infrequent, we found.”

   Shipping companies which qualify for grants must be able to document an environmental gain from transporting consignments by sea.

   Another idea is to support the development of efficient and environmentally acceptable ports. That proposal also appears in the national transport plan’s planning document.

   In addition, the freight analysis revealed that maintaining a decentralised port structure is important for getting as much cargo as possible onto ships.

   NOK 9.4 million in grants – double the figure for 2015 – was allocated by the NCA in February 2016 to support port collaboration as part of efforts to make the sector competitive.


Environmental and climate considerations have been given an important place in the freight analysis and the national transport plan’s planning document.

   Sea and rail shipments are more environment-friendly than road haulage, and obtaining a shift away from the latter forms part of efforts to create a sustainable society.

   “An environment-friendly transport system must be climate-neutral in 2050 and have halved greenhouse gas emissions as early as 2030,” says Marskar, who is very concerned with these issues.

   “We must look at how we can make all forms of freighting greener. That applies not least to ships, which account for 80 per cent of all transport work.”

   She feels that things are moving in the right direction. Reaching Norway’s climate goals looks much more likely than when work began on the freight analysis because of rapid technological progress and greater knowledge of the available opportunities.

Greener shipping

A ship scrap deposit tax, like the one Norway introduced for cars in 1978, is envisaged in the national transport plan’s planning document. The aim would be to encourage reinvestment in more efficient and less polluting vessels.

   “[This] is seen as an important measure for more environment-friendly maritime transport,” the document states. “It will help to promote efficiency as well as a possible restructuring of an aging and fragmented coastal cargo fleet.”

   Although shipping is the form of transport with the fewest disadvantages for society, it must not be used as an excuse for doing nothing.

   “Rapid technological advances are now being made in reducing emissions and discharges from means of transport,” observes Dimmen.

   “Since it takes longer to renew a fleet of ships than is required for freight vehicles on land, however, we need incentives to speed up the process.

   “This will help to ensure that transferring freight from road to sea, where it is possible, remains the right way to proceed environmentally in the long term.”