During the last couple of years, the world has witnessed incidents of disruptions that affected many aspects of everyday life and economy. Starting from the dawn of 2020 when the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, soon upgrading it to a pandemic under the name COVID-19, the world since then has experienced several significant incidents that forced it to discover weaknesses and gaps in systems and policies that until then were not identified or considered as top priority issues. These disruptions have led the world to a pervasive uncertainty about the future, giving a hard time to analysts who are trying to foresee what the future holds.
Freight transportation, being a major pillar and an extrovert sector of the dominant globalized world economy, could not escape the direct and indirect impacts caused by several of these disruptions. In many cases the disruptions have tested/are testing the limits of networks and supply chains, creating problems to the smooth operation of markets & the industry within EU and the rest of the world.
It is difficult to classify all disruptions under a single category though; their duration, geographic dimension, source and type may vary significantly creating a mosaic of different possible impacts that need to be addressed both by transportation networks & the supply chains. Besides the long-lasting disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, other type of disruptions that occurred include the short -term Suez Canal incidence (from March 23 to 29, 2021), the mainly Central Europe-located floods (from July 12 to 25 2021) and of course the ongoing Russian invasion to Ukraine (started on February 24, 2022), just to name a few. These incidents despite having very different causes and level of impacts, are early indicators of the transition towards a future of instability where the ability of a system to adapt to altering circumstances is the key to maintain operations and efficiency.
All the aforementioned examples of disruptions have occurred after the kick-off of the PLANET project, a H2020 project to which ΗΙΤ/CERTH is a partner. PLANET aims to address the challenges of assessing the impact of emerging global trade corridors on the TEN-T network and to ensure effective integration of the European to the Global Network, through the transformation of TEN-T to a Physical Internet (PI)-enabled Integrated Green EU-Global T&L Network [EGTN].
TEN-T and the main emerging trade routes
In order to fulfill the vision of the project, the EGTN concept is structured in the form of three interactive layers:
- a "physical layer", which is related to the physical network’s corridors and nodes. This infrastructure is revised regarding its importance and enriched to support the integration of TEN-T to the global network, taking into account the impact of the technology implementation to its structure,
- a "technological layer", which is related to the digital and technological infrastructure that will enable the transition towards the PI paradigm. In this context, the services and functionalities that are required to support the PI are defined and developed which will be available to users through a digital platform, and finally,
- a "governance layer", addressing how the EGTN should be managed effectively to reach its objectives, taking into account the current governance framework of the TEN-T as well as the governance framework that has been developed for the PI.
For each one of these layers, HIT/CERTH responsibility is to lead the process of defining their specifications in order for the EGTN concept to be successfully implemented.
Soon after the start of the project and even before the arrival of the wave of disruptions that afflict EU and the rest of the world, it became obvious that two of the main attributes that should be included into the EGTN vision are resilience and the ability of the network planning and operations to effectively respond to possible changes. Only in this way, a future network (the future TEN-T) will be able to become and remain connected to an ever-changing global trade network while achieving the EU objectives set in terms of economic, environmental and social sustainability.
In order to address these challenges, HIT/CERTH together with the other partners of PLANET has introduced to the EGTN vision the concept of the new type of PI intelligent nodal points of the TEN-T as its integral component that will define how the EGTN will be structured and operate.
Unlike the existing TEN-T nodes which include individual terminals in a specific geographic location, e.g. a port near a city, this new type of nodal points structure is aligned to the EGTN structure of three layers (physical, digital & governance) and aims at achieving the attribute of network resilience (both in terms of capacity availability & handling unexpected operations disruptions) and also the enhanced economic, environmental & social efficiency of freight transport operations. It includes the sum of transport infrastructure assets (e.g. ports, intermodal stations, warehouses, transportation links) covering a specific geographical area or located along a corridor, the technological infrastructure for digitally connecting these assets and supporting PI operations, and finally the ecosystem of stakeholders who are active and operating in this area, sharing interests and collaborating towards the increase of the node efficiency and attractiveness. More specifically, the vision of EGTN is for the stakeholders of these ecosystems to identify their common goals and to find common ground to establish trust-based relationships and reach consensus in investment policies, leading to in-depth collaboration and the implementation of resource sharing business models in alignment to the PI concept. These ecosystems will be open systems, aiming to expand and ultimately include all actors that are operating in the node, if possible.
In addition to the above, PLANET also recognized that the transition towards the PI paradigm is an exercise that requires a lot of time, effort and funds. For this reason, a methodology is being developed for prioritizing links and nodes of the network for the implementation of the PI-enabling technologies (such as the IoT, blockchain, etc.), which are the foundation for developing tools and services that will transform TEN-T to a resilient by design network. Moreover, by adding the assessment of impacts of the PI-enabling technologies implementation which is also undertaken within the project, the project will be able to respond to the Commission’s two main questions: Is it more efficient to invest EU funds to the introduction of innovative concepts and technologies as a substitute for additional infrastructure capacity investments (and thus reduce the overall public funding) and, if the answer to this question is yes, in which areas/regions should these funds be directed to gain the maximum benefit?
During the first period of the project, extensive discussions and workshops have been made with the project technical partners and also with industrial stakeholders participating to the project’s Living Labs on the approaches shortly described above. This process has helped to formulate them and also verified their usefulness in achieving network resilience and responsiveness.
The initial estimation regarding the significance of resilience by design was verified by all the aforementioned disruptions that happened during the lifetime of the project which served also as a proof of concept for the EGTN. As we are now entering the last period of the project, the work on the resilience and responsive aspects of the EGTN will continue and intensify in order to conclude on the specifications for a future-proof, resilient and globally connected European T&L network.
For more information about PLANET visit: www.planetproject.eu