Liège: a citizen fluvial port and a leading actor in regional mobility

Minutes of the interview with Emile-Louis Bertrand, General Manager of the Port of Liège*.

liege_actuOL_2014fev26_01When, in October 2011 the group Arcelor Mittal announced it was shutting down the hot phase of its steelworks of Liège, the news was a hard blow for whole of Wallonia and for the Port of Liège. From now on, this traditional activity would have to be replaced by other port and logistics functions. The Port of Liège, the third largest European inland port with excellent connections to the great maritime ports of Flanders through a dense network of canals, met the economic challenge. The Trilogiport project (a multimodal platform) can now show its true potential in a job market suffering from a deep structural economic crisis.

Crossed by the Meuse and the Albert canal, the 32 locations of Liège Port Authority – a Wallonian public enterprise – cover a total of 370 ha. Located in the heart of Europe’s “Blue Banana”, the Liège region and the port have a unique logistics potential, which nevertheless remains extremely under-valued. Thanks to its central position in Western Europe, the port is located at the hub of a major motorway and a very dense rail network and waterways that can be used by both pushed river convoys carrying 4,500 tons, and by 2,500-ton river and coastal vessels. The port allows rapid connections to Antwerp, Brussels, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Germany and France.

Beyond the raw materials needed by the steelworks, port traffic has become diversified: a wide range of containerised goods, bulk goods, materials from Wallonia’s quarries, wood, etc. The waterway is used for large-scale public infrastructure works like the train station inaugurated in 2009, designed by the Spaniard Santiago Calatrava. The metallic elements, which are the international trademark of this architect, have been shipped to Liège through river and coastal vessels. Although the port’s cargo tonnage (19 Mt in 2012) has dropped due to a decreased steelwork production, its total added value has increased and the port has now found an appropriate economic balance.

At the heart of an urban area of 600,000 residents, the waterway is becoming an ever-more attractive alternative to road transport, where road traffic is very heavy. And this trend is keenly supported by the City of Liège and the Walloon Region, which are equal members of the port’s administrative council, presided by the Mayor of Liège. Institutional relations between the port and the local communities are deeply rooted in local history.

The Trilogiport project is an integral part of Liège’s strategy to make the port city a key multimodal platform and front-line player in the region’s sustainable development. Boasting a direct connection to the Albert canal, modernised in 1997, and now open to 9,000 ton-convoys, the platform is connected to the ports of Rotterdam, Antwerp, Zeebrugge and Dunkirk. New agreements are being established with these maritime ports. As of late 2015, Trilogiport will have a 15-ha container terminal, a 42-ha logistics platform, 22 ha of port facilities and a logistics-services area. It is important to note that, at present, 95% of the entire port lands managed by the Port of Liège are reserved for economic activities. .

Trilogiport aims to create 2,000 direct jobs. Located on the edge of Liège urban area and in the vicinity of populated districts, Trilogiport has paid special attention to environmental and landscaping aspects: 39 ha located between the platform and the habitable districts will have green spaces, promenades and community gardens.

The port of Liège will contribute to the improvement of regional mobility by routing heavy-duty traffic through the waterway. To complement this strategy, a Gateway project on the Albert canal is being considered. To attain that objective, the mobilisation of local communities and regional authorities will be needed. Local authorities’ policy initiatives and developments regarding the waterway are being closely followed. By promoting projects such as this, the port of Liège, enterprise-driver and citizen port, is earning a place as a leading actor in sustainable and responsible European regional development.

12 February 2014

Olivier Lemaire, AIVP General Manager

*The port of Liège has been an active member of AIVP since 2004.

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