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14 Марта 2018

RLL Container Report - 14 March 2018

From: John Keir, Ross Learmont Ltd. Email: john.keir@telia.com Date: 14 March 2018

The Baltic Exchange.

Four years after it commenced, work on the new 6.7 km Baikal tunnel has been completed. This will remove a major bottleneck on the Transiberian Railway and will allow RZD to raise annual cargo capacity from 13 to 32.5 million tons when the new line opens in 2019. At the same time, the government in Moscow wants to reduce the transit time for container block trains from its eastern borders to the west to a mere seven days. Currently, container block trains take just under 10 days to the Russian capital. There is support within the Russian Railways for a plan to extend the broad gauge network as far as the outskirts of the Austrian capital, Vienna. However, one has to ask oneself if the additional expenditure of Euro 6.7 billion will bring any significant added-value to the broad gauge network.

Aleksei Grom, the head of United Transport and Logistics Company (UTLC) has proposed a plan to raise cargo throughput via the Russian enclave of the Kaliningrad, which not only has a broad gauge line running all the way to the Baltic coast, but also a container terminal which could be expanded to cope with additional containerised tonnage. What is often overlooked is the fact that Kaliningrad also possesses a standard gauge rail line linking it with the Polish port of Gdansk and the greater European standard gauge rail network. Admittedly, this line is currently subject to restrictions from both parties, which seriously impinge on the role it can play. It should have been used to transport football fans from the port and airport of Gdansk to the World Cup venue in Kaliningrad but bureaucracy got in the way and sadly there will be the usual delays when queuing up at the border passport control. Nevertheless, that rail link could, with relatively little investment, be used in the future to haul block trains from the European network to Kaliningrad from where the containers can be distributed to destinations in Russia, the CIS and as far as China and beyond.

Of course, one could rightly point out that such a rail service would find it impossible to compete against the box behemoths, which service the blue riband box service from China to Europe. Jointly, the lines have the capacity and the competitive freight rates to crush any upstart opposition. But even the giants of Greek mythology suffered from an Achilles heel. A transcontinental rail service based in Kaliningrad is not interested in taking on the 20,000 teu behemoths at their own game. Instead, Russian railways should target those markets that lie at the end of the long voyage time from the Far East to Europe. The list includes all of Scandinavia, northern Germany, the Benelux and northern France as well as the Great Britain and the Irish Republic, all of which can be served by smaller and faster container vessels operating out of the southern Baltic ports.

John Keir, Ross Learmont Ltd.
14 March 2018

Copyright ©, 2018, John Keir

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