RLL Container Report - 19 March 2014
From: John Keir, Ross Learmont Ltd
Date: 19 March 2014
"Mind the gap. Mind the gap." Announcement on the London Underground.
When travelling through the oldest stations on the London Underground, passengers using the “tube” are politely reminded to “mind the gap” between the edge of the platform and the entrance to the carriage. It might be advisable to have a similar message blare out over the public address system at Sheremetevo and other Russian airports. “Mind the gap in the Russian container system”. This particular logistical gap is caused by the lack of a suitable tank container depot on the territory of the Russian Federation, which can inspect, clean, repair, modify and obtain approval for a wide range of tank containers carrying hazardous liquid cargoes on the RZD network.
Fortunately, Spetstransgarant (STG) has come to the rescue and has announced the opening of a dedicated tank container depot in the Nizhnegorodskaya Oblast’. Located in the town of Shakhunya, the tank container depot has been approved by Russian Register for periodic inspections, cleaning and repairs. According to STG, this is the first fully approved tank container repair facility in the Russian Federation. Rail Garant, the parent company of STG, was an early member of ITCO, the international tank container organization, which represents the tank container sector to governmental bodies and to the general public. Rail Garant will now be joined by another Moscow-based tank operator, HimTransInvest. With 120 Members worldwide, ITCO's principle focus is on safety, regulatory, technical and environmental issues. There is also progress to report on the use of flexitanks on the 1520 rail system. In the first two months of the year, Ruscon sent 40 x 20` containers and flexitanks loaded with drilling oil from Italy to Bautino, a supply and logistics base for the off-shore oil industry in Kazakhstan’s sector of the North Caspian Sea. The empty flexitanks were then taken 200 km to the processing plant at Zhetibai for recycling.
In January, container traffic on the route from Asia to Europe increased by 8% reaching a total of 1.4 million teu for the first month of the year. But delve deeper into the statistics and you will see that a major shift in global box trade has been taking place since the introduction of 18,000 teu vessels on this route. The lines are now transporting almost as many teu via the Suez Canal to the US East Coast ports as pass through the traditional route via the Panama Canal - and the gap is closing. According to the Transpacific Stabilization Agreement, weekly capacity to the US East Coast through the Suez Canal in February was 26,388 teu compared to 29,390 teu for the Panama Canal. In the meantime, work on upgrading the Panama Canal to take larger vessels is still bogged down in legal wrangling. As ever more units flood in, the Port of New York and New Jersey is already expressing concerns about the sharp increase in container volumes that is causing congestion in ports along the eastern seaboard.
The increasing importance of the Suez Canal also explains why RZD came up with what at first glance might seem a harebrained scheme to invest in Greek railways. As a condition of Greece’s two bailouts by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund worth Euro 240 Billion, Athens needs to raise Euro 1.6 Billion this year from privatizations. RZD has expressed interest in bidding for the port of Thessaloniki and the rail operator, Trainose. Trainose operates all cargo and passenger routes on the 2,500 km of the Greek railway network, while the track is owned by the Railway Organization of Greece.
This is all very well but there is a gap of 3,000 km between the Russian and Greek networks. On the other hand, that puts Greece - and Russian exports - 3,000 km closer to the main global container routes from Asia to Europe and North America. Greece is also the nearest landfall with a rail connection in mainland Europe for container vessels passing through the Suez Canal. The EU is investing heavily in upgrading the rail corridor from Thessaloniki via Sofia and Bucharest to Budapest and from there to Russia. Indeed, the New Europa Bridge linking Bulgaria and Romania opened in June of last year cutting transit times significantly. One should also note that Customs control at Russian ports detains an import container for an average of six days, during which time a block train would already have covered the distance from Thessaloniki to Moscow. RZD’s venture in Greece could drastically cut the transit time for containers between Central Russia and S E Asia. So, in spite of initial skepticism, RZD may well have backed a winner.
Back home in the Kaluga Oblast’ Freight Village RU opened a container terminal at the Vorsino Station of Moscow Railways. The terminal is already receiving up to 150 trucks per day and is conveniently located to act as a main distribution point for the Moscow Region. Meanwhile in the capital, Ecodor reported a 7% rise in container throughput at its main facility in Podolsk, which processed 20,176 teu in February. Ecodor and other Moscow terminals continue to benefit from the rise in imported boxes. Last month, Far East Railways transported 40,100 teu, which represents a 19% rise on last year’s total.
John Keir Ross Learmont Ltd
19 March 2014
Copyright © 2014 John Keir