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Bulk recovering as Bilbao launches improvement projects

Bulk recovering as Bilbao launches improvement projects

(Posted on 28/02/23)

End-of-year figures for total traffic in the Spanish Port of Bilbao stand at 32.7 million tonnes, up 1.5 million (5.1%) on 2021 figures and 3% higher than the average of all state-owned multi-purpose ports. Traffic has not yet returned to pre-pandemic figures but, with a stevedoring agreement reached and signed for the next six years and the investments and public and private projects underway, the foundations have been laid for sustained growth and for Bilbao to become a more competitive port, to attract new traffic, to extend its hinterland and to be ever more sustainable.

Solid bulk was down 19%, due to the fall in cement and clinker and limestone sand, though this traffic has been recovering in the last few months. Conventional general cargo increased by 2%, while containerised cargo fell by 4.5% due to the slowdown in the economy, especially in Europe and, in particular, in the United Kingdom, which continues to be the port's main market. This downturn is slightly less than that of the port system in general (a little over 5%), despite the road transport strike which also had an influence on the negative end-of-year figure.

Once again this year, the growth in ro-ro traffic (+16%) and, within so-called project cargo, wind power components (+20%), is to be highlighted. Traffic with Russia fell by half.

In terms of forecasts for freight traffic in 2023, although economic and geopolitical uncertainty persists, positive figures are expected for dry and liquid cargo. Following the signing of the stevedoring agreement and the increase in promotional and commercial work, new business will gradually be attracted, as Bilbao is a more competitive port with no labour unrest.

4,243 trains entered or left the port of Bilbao, 2.6% less than in the previous year, mainly due to the fall in container traffic. Even so, 27% of containers already enter or leave the port by rail.

In 2022, considerable progress was made in the management of rail-port traffic. On the one hand, the Port Authority is now assuming the management of rail traffic in the port, and is taking on manoeuvres and shunting tasks that had been previously been performed by ADIF, with a view to providing a universal, neutral and competitive service 24/7. The Port Authority approved its Railway Safety Management System, currently in the implementation phase, for use to mitigate the risks inherent to railway activity within the service area.

At the same time, the initial works to build a new 750-metre-long siding at Orduña station were awarded in December. The overall cost of the works is EUR 10.87 million, to be financed, on the one hand, by the Port Authority of Bilbao, with around EUR 3 million from the Inland Port Accessibility Fund, and the rest by ADIF (Spanish Administrator of Railway Infrastructure). The works will not only speed up and improve the operation of freight trains between the port of Bilbao and the Meseta (Castilian Plain), but will also benefit passenger trains.

Though these improvements are important and represent progress in intermodality, the priority for the Port Authority is the increasingly urgent construction of the southern rail bypass for freight trains.

Turnover amounted to EUR 64.9 million, compared to EUR 63.1 million in 2021, up 2.8%. This increase of EUR 1.8 million is the result of the recovery of port traffic as, in order to support competitiveness, port charges have not been increased despite average inflation of 8.4% in 2022 and 3.1% in 2021 (data from the Spanish National Statistics Institute). Consequently, the increase in turnover is solely due to the gradual recovery of activity, with no changes in prices for users and customers of the port.

Extension works on the AZ1 Dock will be completed in the spring, providing 50,000 m² of new land and a 251-metre berthing line. Required investment amounts to EUR 27.4 million. The paving works will be put out to tender this year and will be completed by the end of 2023..

To improve accessibility, eleven new lay-bys came into service in October on the N-240 road between the towns of Zeanuri and Bedia, going towards Bilbao. This was made possible through a collaboration agreement signed between the Provincial Council of Bizkaia and the Port Authority, to improve the accessibility of a road with a high intensity of heavy traffic. Investment costs for this project, funded by the Port Authority of Bilbao, amounted to EUR 2.7 million. Likewise, in December 2022, the works to improve the N-644 road as it passes by the Iberdrola thermal power station intake in Santurtzi were awarded. The works will be completed this year with a budget of EUR 2.1 million.

A stand-out initiative in the field of port-city relations is the provision of EUR 1 million, over four years, for improving the urban environment in the town of Santurtzi. The first such project, which started in January of this year, is the construction of a new footbridge over the ADIF railway tracks to improve accessibility and safety. There are planned innovative projects in the field of sustainability: dock electrification, PV power plant, sewerage system, vessels and decarbonisation hub.

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