14 октября 2019, №175(9) «Railway Gazette International» (Великобритания) «Точка зрения: Алексей Гром: Перевозка большего количества груза в меньшие сроки» (Carrying more freight faster)
United Transport & Logistics Company CEO Alexey Grom outlines to Toma Bačić the measures his company is taking to ensure the boom in Eurasian transit freight can be sustained.
Alexey Nikolaevich Grom is President & Chairman of United Transport & Logistics Company – Eurasian Rail Alliance. It operates container trains between Kazakhstan and Belarus, covering the 1 520 mm gauge section of the principal Asia – Europe rail freight corridors.
These are boom times on the New Silk Road, with huge opportunities for rail operators, believes UTLC-ERA President Alexey Grom. Approximately 23 million TEUs are moved by all modes each year between China and Europe, and pressure is mounting on rail operators and infrastructure managers to invest to keep pace with the boom in demand as rail consolidates its appeal to the market by being faster than sea but cheaper than air freight.
A tripartite joint venture owned equally by Russian Railways, BC of Belarus and Kazakh state railway KTZ, UTLC-ERA plays a central role in the growth of this segment of the rail freight market, running approximately three-quarters of all Eurasian intermodal trains between the Chinese border and the break of gauge between Poland and Belarus; it also serves terminals in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. In the first six months of 2019, Grom reports that the operator handled 135000 TEUs, a 34% increase on the same period a year earlier. Of these, 78 000 were moving westbound, a 27% increase year on year, while eastbound traffic jumped 45% to around 57 000 TEUs.
UTLC-ERA’s initial response to the growth surge has been to lengthen its trains. In September 2017 it started running so-called XL Trains formed of 80 wagons carrying 88 TEUs; previously, the longest container trains running in the 1520 region were typically 57 wagons in length.
The current priority is to increase the speed of intermodal services through the 1520 region, Grom says. RZD has set itself a target for trains to cover around 1100 km per day; if this can be achieved in all three transit countries the journey between the Chinese and Polish breaks of gauge could be reduced by around 24 h. In the first half of this year, UTLC-ERA has already achieved 1 020 km per day, Grom reports. The Dostyk – Brest journey takes an average of 5 days with a best of 4·8, but his long term objective is to achieve a 1520 transit time of 3·5 days by 2024. This would offer the potential for Chinese and European terminals to be linked in as little as seven days overall, when ocean freight typically takes 35 days.
First announced at the ProMotion 1520 conference in Sochi in October 2018, the Eurasian Rail Alliance Index has been developed by UTLC-ERA and consultancy Infraone. Grom says this is intended to ‘show the indicative value of Eurasian rail transit’, emphasising the rapidly closing gap in price point between sea freight shipments and rail. ‘The fundamental knowledge is that maritime transportation is always cheaper than the railway, and there are many reasons for that’, he explains. ‘But now the price levels could be really very close, and we are doing our best to cut costs and to motivate customers to bring more cargo to the railway.
‘There are two principal factors affecting the attractiveness of the rates we are able to offer: the volume of freight being carried, and the need to balance the loads between east-west transit and west-east’, Grom says.
‘The infrastructure usage charges are very stable in the 1520 region, having not changed substantially in the past 15 years. I would like to bring the prices of rail transport even closer to deep sea prices than today and we are doing our best to achieve this.’
ERAI is intended to support this aim by offering an online web portal where the likely tariffs for a given shipment can be checked; it borrows from maritime indices such as the Shanghai Containerized Freight Index. However, the costs quoted by SCFI only cover the shipping rates to so-called ‘base ports’, which in Europe are Hamburg, Rotterdam, Antwerpen, Le Havre and Felixstowe, rather than to inland terminals.
Although the authorities in both Belarus and Poland are improving the rail infrastructure at the three rail border points currently in use (RG 12.18 p37), Grom feels that the pace of the enhancement work needs to increase to keep up with the market.
In the meantime, UTLC-ERA has been running some trains to Kaliningrad, which avoids the busy crossing at Brest. Instead, trains pass through Lithuania to reach the exclave. ‘Our customers need alternative transportation routes and because of that Kaliningrad is very interesting for us’, Grom reports.
He explains that Berlin and some southern Scandinavian cities can be reached from the Russian exclave within 30 h. In 2018, UTLC-ERA moved 9 970 TEUs through Kaliningrad, including 6 300 TEUs heading east from Europe to China, and 3 670 TEUs in the opposite direction. In the first six months of this year, total transit traffic through the region amounted to 6 096 TEUs, and the company expects this growth to continue.
As a result of this traffic boom, RZD is spending 300m roubles on modernisation of intermodal terminals in Kaliningrad while UTLC has signed a memorandum of understanding with the port of Rostock aimed at further increasing volumes. ‘We are very optimistic about the potential’, Grom concludes.