As part of the EU, Bulgaria has a number of commitments to achieve the green transition. The transport sector, as a contributor to 25% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, is also the main focus of the economic transformation that is coming to us and to the world. Our country, as usual, faces a bit more of a challenge, given that we have traditionally been slightly behind global trends. This is also the case in transport. However, Bulgaria as a Member State has made certain commitments and has developed a national strategy for the decarbonisation of the transport sector. One of its main areas is the transfer of freight transport from road to rail and inland waterway transport.
This was explained by Dimitar Savov from the Ministry of Transport, Information Technologies and Communications (MTITC) during the international forum “Green Transition – Solutions and Challenges for Bulgaria”, organized by Dir.bg and 3eNews in Sofia on October 15.
The State intends to achieve this objective by promoting multimodal transport. This can be done by building more intermodal terminals through which freight can be transferred between the different modes of transport, and, according to our strategy, mainly on rail and inland waterways. However, this will require building such terminals on the one hand, and linking up the various transport infrastructures on the other.
In any case, this redirection of freight traffic in Bulgaria will have several effects simultaneously. Firstly, there will be a reduction in road transport emissions, because lorries and trucks will be significantly reduced, and trains and ships, by taking over the transport of their cargo, will reduce the use of road fuels, and so will the emission of harmful gases from the territory of Bulgaria, because the railways are largely electrified, and with the modernisation that is currently under way, they will become more numerous, with the result that fewer “dirty” diesel locomotives will be used. It will also take significantly less fuel to transport a unit of freight by ship rather than by lorry, so the carbon footprint of that same unit of freight will be reduced.
The second effect will be indirect, but it will solve one of the biggest problems of our land infrastructure – the destruction of roads. It has been talked about for more than 10 years (as well as the transfer of freight transport from roads to railways), but in practice a huge part of both domestic and transit freight traffic in Bulgaria still passes on motorways, first and second class roads. Which in turn ruins them and the state has to spend tens and hundreds of millions of leva annually to repair them. A prime example of this problem is the major overhaul of the section of the Trakia motorway between Chirpan and Stara Zagora, where the pavement became compromised and damaged very soon after the section in question was put into operation, the reason for which was certainly not the cars, but the heavy lorries passing along it. Naturally, doubts remain about the quality of the road when it was built, but that is another matter. And it is unlikely that the asphalt there would have become so badly rutted and defective if it had been used mainly by cars and light goods vehicles and not heavy goods vehicles, including overloaded ones.
The third effect of shifting freight to our rail and water infrastructure will be economic. And a positive one for each of the parties involved in the process. First of all, rail and water transport have traditionally been cheaper than road transport. Correspondingly, for freight, this will reduce the share of transport in the final cost of the product. Thus the manufacturer/seller will be able to offer a more competitive price, in turn the transport company will have fewer costs to transport a unit of goods from point A to point B, therefore it will be able to offer a better price, and the end customer will be able to save part of the cost of the product or goods received. There will also be a positive economic effect for rail and shipping companies, which will increase their turnover. There will only be a negative economic effect for the owners of the land transport companies, but ultimately the green transition will require sacrifices, so inevitably some businesses will have to suffer negatives. It is therefore advisable for them to look at the transformation options so that they do not lose too much. But with good planning, losses may not occur, as economic transformation involves not only challenges but also opportunities.
The green transformation of transport is also directly linked to the production and introduction of sustainable alternative fuels. This is also one of the priorities of our national strategy. And in this regard, our country has a lot of work ahead. Apart from electrification, which has already started anyway with the appearance of more and more electric cars and electric buses in public transport, and not only in Sofia, the main focus for now appears to be on hydrogenisation. It is this fuel that is currently seen as the main alternative for land freight and passenger transport, as well as those over longer distances. In addition, we will soon be obliged by the EU to build adequate hydrogen charging infrastructure. Which will be a challenge for both technological and legislative reasons. With regard to the latter, we will need a change in the regulatory framework, which currently makes it very difficult and complicated to build a hydrogen charging station. There are similar problems with regard to electric chargers, such as the fact that the EWRC does not currently recognise such investments as a cost to the electricity distribution companies, which prevents them from investing more in such facilities. As far as hydrogen infrastructure is concerned, the challenges there are not only in terms of land transport, but also in terms of rail transport, because hydrogen technology is already making inroads, there are such locomotives, not as prototypes, but actually running in a number of countries, and not only in Europe.
All of these technological solutions and transformations to achieve the EU’s target of 90% decarbonisation of transport by 2050 go hand in hand with digitisation in the sector.
Another major focus on the transformation and future of transport is intelligent traffic systems, which provide a comprehensive solution linking the improvement of transport infrastructure and services, increasing the safety and security of transport, again reducing the negative impact on the environment, increasing population mobility, competitiveness, employment, etc.
The deployment of intelligent transport systems has a strong potential to contribute significantly to achieving the objectives of the Green Deal as well as the Sustainable Smart Mobility Strategy. The digitisation of the transport sector and the opportunities provided by the dynamic development of ICT are leading to an increase in the quality of transport services as well as to an overall improvement in environmental and economic performance. Taking cars as an example, intelligent systems can solve the problems caused by increased traffic in big cities such as congestion, air pollution, accidents, etc. But in parallel, they also enable the provision of additional services to users and better efficiency of transport systems. Last but not least, they will also bring benefits for their operators.
In rail transport, for example, the main focus in the development of intelligent transport systems is the modernisation of infrastructure through the implementation of the European Rail Traffic Management System, which has already started in the form of a number of projects. Priority is being given to equipping the lines of the main trans-European TEN-T rail network as well as the Bulgarian priority corridor Orient-East Mediterranean. The modernisation aims to replace the existing different European rail signalling systems with a single European one, which allows trains to run without interruption in the individual countries, and thus improves the competitiveness of rail transport – something very important for Bulgaria as a country, where in recent decades there has been a shift away from it and a transfer of both freight and passengers to road transport. And this will help and accelerate the other priority – to shift the main freight traffic from roads to rail.
In water transport, a very good example of the application of intelligent mobility are the information systems for the management of maritime traffic, as well as the BULRIS system, which cover the Bulgarian section of the Danube. According to Dimitar Savov, the benefits of these systems are not only economic, but also optimize logistics chains, reduce costs, increase productivity, and have a direct beneficial effect on the environment. They optimise the routes of the vessels, which leads to significant fuel savings and a corresponding reduction in emissions. And the reduced downtime in ports, especially where terminals are located in urban environments, has a direct effect on air and water quality in coastal areas.
The Bulgarian state is also working to modernise air transport systems. An example of this is the deployment of the European Sky Traffic Management Research SSR programme, which aims to provide highly efficient air traffic management within the EU by 2030, enabling safer and more environmentally friendly operation and development of this mode of transport.
Digitisation and the introduction of intelligent systems in all modes of transport in the country is one of the focuses of the new programming period 2021-2027. In terms of financing these upgrades, the state does not intend to use only EU funds, but also to provide its own funding for some of the projects. In this way, intelligent transport systems will ensure that the objective of sustainable mobility is achieved, while also contributing to improving the quality of life and service for the population and businesses.