Trains and Boats and Planes

Some may well remember the famous song, “Trains and Boats and Planes,” written way back in 1966 by Burt Bacharach and David Hall, with a wonderful rendition by Dionne Warwick.

Rolling through Kazakhstan – container train China to Europe
Rolling through Kazakhstan – container train China to Europe

Much has been written and discussed in the worldwide cargo industry during the past decades as far as transport by planes and boats is concerned.
The international carriage of goods by sea and air has transformed itself since the days when Bacharach wrote his famous song, into a flourishing worldwide industry.
This, despite the many economic and political ups and downs the world has experienced in the past 50 years or so.

Large fleets of container ships have taken to the seas where literally thousands of 20 and 40 foot containers are loaded onto each other, all full with goods circling the world and these days unloaded by means of sophisticated computer programs which almost every port has at hand.
Sea transport, due to its rapid and modern expansion has done its part in bringing nations closer together by means of speedy and safe transport of goods from one nation to another.

Airfreight transport also basically got started in the late 1960’s.
Those days, freighters were few and far between.
Mostly reworked DC6 or DC7 Loadmasters, with the Canadair CL-44 being brought into service by the now long defunct Seaboard World Airlines.
Air cargo really got onto its feet with the introduction of the B707 and DC8 freighters which were closely followed by the venerable DC-10F and last but not least, the B747F.

Still in service – DC-8-63F operated by Ghana-headquartered Airlift International  /  source: Airlift Int’l
Still in service – DC-8-63F operated by Ghana-headquartered Airlift International / source: Airlift Int’l

That’s when tonnages “started to take off.”
Supply chains were slowly built up whereby shippers and consignees were bound together through a chain of handling processes which was, and still is, aimed at giving the customer a fast and reliable door to door service.
In comparison to seafreight, the air cargo worldwide movement still only represents just over one percent of all goods moved annually.
Ocean freight still dominates and this will not by all means drastically change.
Seafreight operators, in comparison to their colleagues on the air freight side, have never claimed to offer a 3 day door to door service.
Air freight does, but now must reluctantly admit that this has dropped back to at least 6-7 days.
Despite many attempts at air freight conferences to rectify the above situation, nothing much has happened and the industry is still at loggerheads as how to cut down the transit time and ensure it’s attractive for shippers and consignees alike.

That’s where maybe the trains come in!
CargoForwarder Global has reported in the past months on the steady introduction of “full train” transports from the Far East (China) to Eastern and Western Europe (see also our DB Schenker report in this issue).
This mode of transport, once laughed at by pessimists, seems to be on the right tracks.
Daily services from Chinese cities to Poland and Germany arranged through Chinese and German freight forwarders have become fact.
The train mode is cheaper than air freight, more expensive than seafreight, but by offering a maximum two-week transit time, seems to be finding its niche in the international transport sector.
Despite the political upheavals in Russia and the Ukraine, the transit times have so far not been negatively affected.
Our information is that the average 14 day transit time is becoming more attractive for shippers as this represents more or less what they want when considering “order & delivery”  demands by their consignees.
No long transit times and less warehouse storage time at destination.

Busy Jebel Ali Port might see less sea-air traffic in future  /  source: JAP
Busy Jebel Ali Port might see less sea-air traffic in future / source: JAP

It’s starting to move eastbound!
There was a very interesting development lately when a weekly car train transport was introduced between the German city of Duisburg and Chongqing in China.
This weekly train is solely used for the movement of eighty-two new cars from German car makers such as BMW, Mercedes and Volkswagen to car dealers in China.
Previously, this train rolled three times per week on the same route carrying spare parts from the German automobile industry into China.
These three transports are now four with the addition of the carriage of the finished product.
Information is that there are plans to at least double or triple these movements during the coming months and that the visit to Duisburg by China’s State President, Xi Jinping, was where the green light was given to expand this mode of car transport.
Two cars are each packed into a 40 foot container for the more than 10.000 Kilometer ride into Chongqing.

Eastbound, westbound, these two factors are critical for acceptable load factors and revenue enhancement.
It’s no different than sea or air freight in this respect and the total transit times which have so far proven to be fact, should be taken seriously by air freight and seafreight managers alike.

Burt Bacharach’s opening line in his song was:
“Trains and boats and planes are passing by.”

That’s the past.
Trains, as well as boats and planes are here to stay.

John Mc Donagh

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