The Port of Brussels: A multimodal logistics platform in the heart of the city



Charles Huygens, General Manager, the Port of Brussels, Belgium and President of the European Federation of Inland Ports



The Port of Brussels is a public-owned regional company, with the Region of Brussels its most important shareholder (65%).
Among its other shareholders are several local authorities.

The Port of Brussels is situated at a distance of 120km from the sea and is accessible through the canal Scheldt-Brussels – Charleroi. Thanks to its exceptionally good accessibility it can accommodate maritime and fluvial ships up to 4,500 tonnes. The port is located nearby a large metropolitan area (the region of Brussels, with 1.1 million inhabitants): Therefore import is the most important trade flux. The domain of the port covers an area of around 70 hectares. Due to its regional boundaries, the Port of Brussels suffers from limited land resources and a difficulty to expand its domain. The Port authority therefore has to rationalise its land-use to allow for a maximum efficiency. Thanks to this policy of efficiency, the Port of Brussels has an exceptional capacity for its size.

When looking at the volume of goods transhipped in the port, the Port of Brussels counts among the ten largest European inland ports and the second inland port in Belgium (after Liège). Yearly, around 20 million tonnes of goods pass through the multimodal infrastructure of the port (road, rail, inland shipping and maritime transport). Transport by waterway reached a volume of 7.7 million tonnes in 2004, of which 4.2 million tonnes was transhipment in the Port of Brussels and 3.5 million tonnes was transit.

The use of waterways allows goods to be transported right to the heart of the city in the most environmentally friendly conditions and in total security. Without the canal, the Brussels road network would have to cope with an extra 385,000 lorries each year.

The principal destination of the goods transhipped is the city of Brussels, but there are also semi-finished products for Brussels industries. Production output from these companies is also often exported to different destinations in Europe and beyond. In the traditional port sectors (secondary and tertiary “heavy”) more than half the companies use the waterway either for bringing in supplies or to transport waste materials.

In the port area about 300 companies are located, in such diversified sectors as transport and logistics (transport, warehousing, stevedores, maritime agencies, customs), production and transformation (construction materials, metal products, groceries), wholesale trade, recuperation of materials, retail trade, services, etc. When looking at the size of these companies, a large majority are small and medium sized companies (around 90% of the total amount). The companies located in the port create jobs for 6,000 people directly and another 3,000 indirectly. Therefore, the port of Brussels is an important provider of diversified jobs for the region, varying from dockers, warehouse keepers, truck drivers to customs officers, export managers, etc.

Storage and logistics facilities

One of the principal functions of the port is the storage of goods and distribution towards the city. The Port authority offers 160,000 m2 of storage facilities in the TIR building, located at a distance of 1km from the city centre. This capacity is nearly permanently fully used and it increasingly cannot respond to the growing market needs.

One of the flagship projects of the port is therefore the building of the Brussels Intermodal Logistics Centre (BILC). This new facility is expecting approval from the regional authorities and will be built on a site covering 83,000 m2 right next to the current TIR centre. This new centre will be equipped with the latest logistics facilities. The direct environmental benefits from a distribution centre situated nearby the consumption centre is that goods can be delivered at night in large lorries to the storage facilities and from there distributed towards the city in smaller lorries, thereby reducing the congestion and other nuisances for the city.

The port further offers a fully equipped container terminal, with a regular (4 times a week) service by barge towards Antwerp. This container terminal has been operational since April 2004 and has since transhipped about 3,300 TEU. We expect 10,000 TEU to have been transhipped for the year 2005. The terminal is also connected to the rail infrastructure and is therefore a real multimodal platform. The terminal is equipped with a portal crane with a capacity of up to 24 moves an hour.

Large logistics companies are situated in the immediate vicinity of the terminal. These companies offer modern warehousing facilities and other logistics services, such as: Distribution all over Europe, short or long term storage, picking and packing of pallets, labelling and sorting, customs house brokers, track and tracing of shipments. To further enhance its logistics offer, the Port of Brussels also intends to develop a new site in the maritime area of the harbour. The Brussels Region has indeed trusted the port with the decontamination and the development of an abandoned industrial site. The location of this brown field allows the port to develop it in order to create a direct link with the waterway. This new development will therefore boost further the logistics offer in Brussels and the use of the waterway.


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