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An outlook to future - Traffic significance of the D-O-E for the Czech Republic PDF Print E-mail
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Traffic significance of the D-O-E for the Czech Republic

By far the largest part of the D-O-E water corridor route falls onto the Czech territory. The domestic opponents of the project often argue: ‘Why should the problem of insufficient integrity of European waterways, an all-European problem, be resolved at the expense of the Czech Republic, at the expense of land appropriation, damages on the environment and landscape in Bohemia and especially in Moravia?’ This seemingly matter-of-fact objection is very easy to disprove. As for the impacts on the environment, wildlife and landscape, it is impossible to conceal that some of them will occur. However, the positive ones will vastly prevail; it is related to the extra-transport functions of the waterway, which are to be analysed in the following chapters, to be dealt with later but all the more profoundly.

Regarding strictly the transport problematic, it can be assessed from two different points of view: according to the transport connection of the Czech Republic to the rest of Europe as well as to overseas, and according to the influence of the traffic routes on the economic development in the adjacent areas. Quality of transport connection of any country influences directly costs of its foreign trade, i.e. efficiency and competitive strength of its economy. Connection to a cheap transport networks is fundamental; those include also the sea, coastal and inland navigation.

The important role of the coastal and inland navigation in 15 member countries of EU has already been mentioned. With the admission of another 12 countries, the proportions have slightly changed, as they are prevailingly ex-eastern-block countries with the governing share of the railway transport still surviving. Nevertheless, 26 out of 27 member countries have an opportunity to use coastal navigation, as they have seashore and seaports at their disposal, or they have a chance to entrust part of their foreign trade to the modern inland navigation. Most of them enjoy even both of the opportunities.

The only EU member country, which is deprived of either the first or the second chance, is the Czech Republic. There is no coast, neither any quality inland navigation network to speak of. Thus, within Europe, the Czech economy finds itself in a very unequal position. The handicap could be tackled only with a prompt connection of the Czech Republic to the Danube waterway, which is a logical first stage of the D-O-E water corridor.

Přeprava nadgabaritních nákladů není díky speciální překladní poloze v přístavu Mělník vzácná ani na labské vodní cestě. Znevýhodňuje ji však to, že většina výrobců nadrozměrných nebo extrémně těžkých výrobků sídlí na Moravě a je od Labe velmi vzdálena.

Special reloading facilities in the port of Mělník allow relatively frequent transport of oversized cargoes on the Elbe. However, most of the oversized or extremely heavy products are manufactured in Moravia, which is rather far away from the Elbe.

The economic handicap of the Czech foreign trade shows for instance in the increase of the average cost price of some products when you add freight costs of export or import for longer distances (e.g. between the central part of CR and seaports at the Rhine estuary). You can consider two alternatives: either the rates of direct railway transport or costs of the combined transport, including a short distance transport of the goods to the seaport (up to 100 kms), transhipping and other bywater transport. The comparison not only shows a great advantage of the combination with water transport, but further proves that railway transport multiplies price of some commodities at their destination so much that they are practically unmarketable. Export (or import) of such raw materials or products is thus only possible with employment of the water transport.

In terms of marketability, the relative advantage of lower cost of water transport naturally decreases with the increase of the average cost price of the respective commodity. However, it is interesting, that water transport gains ground even in case of containerized goods of various and often rather high cost price, as proved in the earlier-stated data of the ever-growing role of inland navigation in this field. In case of transport of oversized, extremely heavy and bulky products, which cannot be shipped by railway and only with true difficulties by road, the water transport offers entirely specific advantages. In such cases, the water transport benefits reach further beyond mere freight cost savings. It allows the manufacturer to despatch larger, completely assembled units, and reduce the extent of more costly assembling in the destination. 

Development of some industrial fields would be practically impossible without the help of water transport. Moreover, it is little known that connecting the Czech Republic to a reliable waterway network could fundamentally affect choice of the optimal alternative of further energetic development. Quality hard coal from overseas has been on its rise in Europe; owing to the cheap sea transport, its seaport price is lower than the price of coal from the European pans.

However, the consecutive transport by land marks the price considerably up, and its transfer to the Czech Republic by railways would be economically unbearable. Although the water transport would be the best solution, unreliability of the Elbe waterway can hardly guarantee a regular supply of the fuel. Thus, so far the concept of imported overseas coal has been rejected in favour of the scenario involving new nuclear power plants and expansion of coalmining in North Bohemia.

Schematické znázornění vlivu přepravních nákladů na cenu jednotlivých komodit v místě určení při přepravní vzdálenosti 1000–1200 km. 

Influence of transport costs of individual commodities on their final price at destination with transport distance of 1,000–1,200 kms.

Let us get back to the critical voices, which claim that the Czech economy could by very well connected to a reliable waterway network through the existing Danube ports in Slovakia, Austria and Germany, which are only tens of kilometers away from the Czech border, easily reachable by road or railway. Such solution, tempting as it is at first glance, would in consequence cut Czech entrepreneurs from the opportunity to enter the international transport market and participate in transshipping as well as the connected logistic services.

In case of river-sea navigation, it concerns business activities reaching beyond the European region. It is closely connected with job opportunities, tax yields etc. It would also represent resignation to the advantages of direct shipping by waterways; the direct transport is markedly cheaper than the so-called fractional one. Advantages of direct shipping, with no additional costs of consecutive transport and transshipping imply the positive influence of waterways on the economic development in their immediate neighborhood. Most often, plants and services move straight into ports, or port industrial zones. The contemporary inland ports are not mere transshipping spots, they concentrate all kinds of economic activities, like industrial plants, trading and dispatching warehouses, silos etc.

The port of Nuremberg on the Main–Danube Canal is just one of the examples: its premises have been rented out to more than 50 businesses, which employ over 5,000 people and are engaged in various activities from dispatching and logistic services, via manufacturing of building material and fodder, down to recycling and waste material utilization. This industrial centre had been developing according to its plan long before the Main – Danube Canal was completed. Raising new plants at an independent location on the waterway is yet another form of direct connection to the water transport. Such enterprises usually establish narrowly specialized plant ports for unloading of material or loading of their own products.

The modern waterways are thus undoubtedly highly attractive for investors, as the lots on the canal or river banks rank much higher in price than those more distant from the waterways. Quite possibly the indirect economic benefits of the “gravitation” impact of waterways might be in the end more significant than the direct, easily calculable payoff.