Rail freight transport along the New Silk Road continues its upward trajectory

WNM | Feb 3, 2021 at 7:51 PM

BERLIN, Februar 3 (WNM/Moritz Enders) - The Kazakh-Russian-Belarusian “United Transport and Logistics Company – Eurasian Rail Alliance” (UTLC ERA) alone transported 546,900 TEU (standard containers) by rail from Europe to China and from China to Europe in 2020. In so doing, it was responsible for 91% of all rail freight transport on the broad-gauge tracks of the New Silk Road. And Alexei Grom, CEO of the company, is of the opinion that the volume of goods transported along this Eurasian route could increase to around a million standard containers (TEU) by 2025.

This means that freight transport by rail between Europe and Asia is becoming increasingly important even though by far the greatest part of the total traffic of 23 million TEU continues to be transported by sea. As Alexei Grom explains, “There was particularly brisk trade in the transport of medical products and equipment, car parts, electrical goods and cooling agents last year.”  He goes on to point out that what also had a positive impact was the fact that since the spring of 2020 Russia has allowed the transit of so-called sanction goods, in particular fruit, vegetable and high-quality groceries, through its territory.

A major advantage of transporting goods by rail rather than by sea is the significantly shorter journey times. Whilst container ships are en route for several weeks, and sometimes for months, goods trains have already reduced transport time to an average of just twelve days between China and Europe. However, as Mr Grom adds, the industry is facing infrastructural challenges because of the rising freight volumes. “We are working on several new corridors that will run via new EU border crossing points. This will enable us to create additional capacity reserves and avoid long waiting times at borders.” He goes on to say that multimodal routes are now helping to diversify goods transport and that the Baltic ports of Baltysk, near Kaliningrad, Mukran and Rostock have established themselves as hubs where goods can be transferred from trains onto ships and from ships onto trains.

The question as to whether the various logistics services providers in Europe and Asia can possibly join forces was the subject of a digital conference that was held a few days ago on the initiative of UTLC ERA. Fabio Amato, the Vice-President of the Italian railway company “Mercitalia Rail” and a conference participant, expressed the following view: “It is important for all companies from East and West that are operating on the Eurasian rail corridor not to be in competition with one another, but to join forces and to develop and maintain models for cooperation.” Moreover, Dr Carsten Hinne, CEO of DB Cargo AG, is also planning to make use of more digital solutions and environmentally friendly technologies. As he explains, “This includes the paperless processing of transport orders and digital transport tracking.”

The organizer and host of the conference Alexei Grom was satisfied with what had been achieved. “The number of companies interested in collaborating is growing constantly. I am optimistic that together we can achieve an increase in TEU of 20 per cent in 2021 and that, in so doing, we can make further progress towards our medium-term goal of around a million TEU by 2025. It is, therefore, our overriding responsibility now to motivate each other to achieve new records, to identify bottlenecks and to deal with them together.”