European Rail Operators Increase Cargo Traffic from China

European rail freight may have been having a torrid time recently, but it appears to have got volumes back from China – even with Russia’s continuing onslaught against Ukraine.

Alexey Shilo, deputy general director of Russian Railways, said there had been a 44% spike in Europe-bound Chinese rail freight transiting Russia, as shippers seek alternative routes to the lengthy deviations resulting from attacks on box ships in the Red Sea.

“There is a certain change in trends this year, we really see an increase in container transit between China and Europe,” Mr Shilo told state-run news outlet Interfax.

“It grew 44% in Q1, compared with the same period last year, as we transported almost 90,000 teu. The second trend is transit between Belarus and China. I can say that it has increased 68% on the same period last year; we transported about 135,000 teu on the route.”

Via Russia, cargo can reach Europe in between five and seven days, three to five times faster than containerships transiting the Cape of Good Hope.

And Mr Shilo sees no sign of that rapid growth rate dropping any time soon. He said the carrier “expects the growth of transit traffic in Q2 will also be around 30-40%”.

Carriers have been able to transit Russia despite sanctions, providing they are not moving cargo in or out of the country, only through it. Nevertheless, given safety concerns surrounding cargo, there has been a spike in the number of services taking alternative routings, with keen-to-capitalise Central Asian countries having announced multiple infrastructure projects to tempt more cargo south.

Russian Railways does not have it all its own way, however, with some 2m tonnes of cargo being delayed as it struggles with maintenance and repair issues.

These have intensified since the beginning of sanctions, with products essential to keeping railways running, like lubricants, bearings and electronic components, among goods proscribed by western governments.

And the country’s war-footing has left the operator short of maintenance staff, with engineers and mechanics sent to the front line.

On the other side of the boder, it seems Ukrainian Railways is reportedly eyeing 18 new routes into Europe. Chair Yevhen Lyashchenko told media he and his team were looking at “the reconstruction and development of terminals throughout Ukraine”.

Mr Lyashchenko said: “Currently, we are building a robust network of container terminals.”

Elsewhere in Europe, the situation for rail freight operators remains harsh, Poland’s PKP Cargo, the only operator reporting positive news: volumes up 32% year on year, to leave it the continent’s second-biggest rail carrier.

Such success may partly explain it announcing a €1bn investment package to bolster regional infrastructure and reduce wait times.


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