The downward trend for UK port traffic from 2001-2016 will be reversed through to 2020, according to projections from MDS Transmodal.

Speaking at the UK Ports Conference 2018, managing director Chris Rowland said that a 27% decline in bulk handling over that period, largely on the back of decarbonisation strategies, more than offset positive growth in the container traffic sector.

Mr Rowland described unitised traffic as a much more “positive story” than bulk, with 5.6% per annum growth since 2009.

Total cargo volumes through UK ports stood at 473m tonnes in 2016, and are expected to rise to 486m tonnes, or 2.7%, by 2020. However, by 2030, volumes are expected to slip back again to 473m tonnes.

Mr Rowland also commented on the threat of rail to the UK shipping and ports industry in light of the arrival of the first Silk Road trains from China to the UK this year.

MDS Transmodal calculated comparative costs at $2,000/feu for sea against $4,250/feu for rail. By 2040, it added that 2.5m teu out of a market of 40m teu, or 6%, could transfer over to rail. “Is this a big deal for shipping? It might be irritating, but it’s not a disaster,” he said.