The amount of goods transported via the New Silk Road is constantly growing. Recently, the popularity of the China-EU route has been skyrocketing, particularly when it comes to intermodal transport.
Currently, 96% of cargo containers from China are sent by sea. While maritime transport usually takes much longer than other delivery modes, it remains the cheapest option. As a result of increasing cargo volumes on the New Silk Road, a corresponding increase in intermodal rail transport volumes has also been taking place for several years.
Rail transport on the China-EU route constitutes a small percentage of the total commercial trade between the two large economies. It is, however, a convenient alternative to fast but expensive air transport and cheap but slow sea transport.
According to available statistics, over 2,000 container trains traveled on the China-Europe-China trade lane during the first eight months of 2018. The number of containers transported from Europe to China during the same period amounted to over 450,000 TEUs, almost twice what has been transported in the corresponding period in 2017. This situation has a significant impact on the profitability of container transport. Logistics operators started combining the movement of equipment for Chinese imports with exports to China, thus reducing the number of empty containers returning to China and the associated final costs of transport. Subsidies from the Middle Kingdom play a significant role in the development of container rail transport. China consistently strives to increase intermodal rail transport and aspires to have over 5,000 trains running continuously by 2020.
Every country wants a piece of the Silk Road railway pie. Currently, most of the trains from China to Europe travel through Poland via the main Terespol-Małaszewicze border crossing point. As Ewa Trochimiuk, Head of the EU Rail Freight Division at AsstrA-Associated Traffic AG, emphasizes:
“Poland wants to serve as a gateway to Europe. At the same time, however, Slovakia, Hungary and Greece also have similar goals. Who will benefit the most from the New Silk Road in this region? Poland? It is a complicated question. Poland is rather a transit country, a sort of a corridor through which Chinese trains pass the route to the West. Our location is a great advantage, but the situation and infrastructure we have do not allow us to achieve our full potential at the moment. We lack large, world-class logistics centers. There is still no specific government plan to support international trade by building significant logistics centers. It is clear to see that such logistics centers come with great advantages to their countries. Local companies provide transport brokerage services distribution, and logistics services for goods. Consider, for example, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands and France. I think that dedicated trains going to Poland, Germany, France or the Netherlands will maintain their positions, because at the moment Western Europe is the source of 60% of cargo in containers returning to China.”
“It is worth bearing in mind, though, that the situation is dynamic and subject to change. Poland is taking advantage of the current tensions between Russia and Ukraine. It is our "5 minutes" that must be used advantageously,” continues the EU Rail Freight Division at AsstrA.
“Unfortunately, the Polish State Railways infrastructure is not in a satisfactory state. Transit times have increased along with cargo volume. For several years we have been experiencing capacity problems at railroad crossings. Infrastructure repairs have led to serious delays of block trains at the Brześć-Małaszewicze border crossing. The Russians and Chinese have been looking for alternative solutions for a long time, with Moscow proposing to route some trains to the ports of St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad. The situation is changing dramatically. Rail routes from China have already been launched through Kaliningrad, Lithuania, and Slovakia. Take, for example, the China-Vienna train via Slovak Railways with a crossing at Dobra. We know that Austria is planning to build a wide track to Vienna, and the Austrian authorities have allocated a large budget for it. Vienna can thus become another big hub for the distribution of goods to the Balkans, Italy, or Spain.”
International transportation and logistics services provider AsstrA-Associated Traffic AG uses various intermodal shipping modes on the China-EU route including both container rail transport, road transport in combination with rail, or road transport alone.
"It should be remembered that sea and rail transport, especially in terms of intermodal transport, currently do not function alone. Transport from / to China also involves road transport, as the goods must be delivered by cars from / to the port or terminal, and then on to the final customer. AsstrA offers comprehensive organization of the entire logistics chain, from the point of loading to the place of unloading. Therefore the means of transport depends on the type of goods, delivery scheduling, and specific customer requirements. Experienced and informed AsstrA specialists in branches around Europe, the CIS, and Asia provide our clients with holistic transportation services. We organize sea, air, rail and road transport within the EU and to the CIS countries,” adds Ewa Trochimiuk
AsstrA specialists closely monitor market conditions. “The Chinese are strongly focused on the expansion of the China-Europe corridor. The route through Poland is one of many within this corridor”, points out Ewa Trochimiuk.
“Only a few years ago, containers to the Baltic countries, Belarus, Russia, or Ukraine were delivered on Chinese trains to Poland, and only then transported to the final recipient. Currently, there are direct trains between China-Russia, China-Belarus, and China-Lithuania. Operators offer special discounts on transport in Chinese containers, provided that the empty containers from the EU go to Moscow or even to Belarus. These countries demand the empty Chinese containers for their own export shipments to China. Belarus supplies dairy and meat products to China. Russia sends a lot of wood, mineral resources, and grain. Unfortunately, the Russian embargo on Poland and other European countries is still the biggest problem here. We can not send goods to China this way, even the ones in high demand there such as the majority of food products."
Poland, as a transit country, plays an important role on the route of Chinese imports and exports. Road transport in Poland is very well developed. Polish transport companies offer proven solutions at affordable prices that make the transport mode efficient for shipments from and to China.