Trans-Eurasian Freight Trains Challenge Traditional Sea-Air Solutions

Is the era of combination sea-air transport on routes from the Far East to Europe being doomed?  According to logistics giant DB Schenker this mode of forwarding goods might have passed its zenith. Railway solutions spanning the Eurasian land bridge are increasingly becoming an alternative for shippers and their forwarders, predicts the agent. Meanwhile, plans for setting up a new cargo airline in Zhengzhou are becoming increasingly mature. 

Xie Fuzhan (left) and Karl-Friedrich Rausch gave the starting signal for the trans-Eurasian cargo train  /  source pictures: hs
Xie Fuzhan (left) and Karl-Friedrich Rausch gave the starting signal for the trans-Eurasian cargo train / source pictures: hs

It was Henan Province’s Governor Xie Fuzhan and DB Logistics Helmsman Karl-Friedrich Rausch taking on the rather uncommon role as station masters last week. Why? For jointly giving the green light to the first cargo train rolling from Hamburg to Zhengzhou in central China.

Capacity neutral transports
The main contents of the containers railing from West to East are: industrial robots purchased by Chinese enterprises which are brought into service at local firms. The train carrying 41 standard containers (TEU) will need 17 days to master the route of 10,214 kilometers. Beginning as of now, there will be bi-weekly runs, announced both Governor Xie Fuzhan and Karl-Friedrich Rausch. The DB Schenker executive adds that the frequencies would be increased if market demand should grow. Any interested party can make use of the trains because “we are a capacity neutral transport manager,” emphasizes Rausch.

“Once the documentation can be submitted electronically to the customs offices at the borders the trains are crossing we will save one more day,” he announced. The present situation however, might last, since bureaucracy in the CIS countries is very persistent, as experience has shown.
Cargo trains linking China and Europe by bridging the vast Eurasian land corridor, crossing seven times zones, have meanwhile become normality. Already in 2008 the first cargo train rolling from China through Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, and Poland to Hamburg in Germany was set on the  tracks. It was supposed to be the start signal for regular rail traffic across the Eurasian land corridor. However, “the outbreak of the financial and economic crisis interrupted this project unexpectedly,” says Karl-Friedrich. The stalemate lasted until 2011 when the railing of goods from East to West began anew, with German Railway Company Deutsche Bahn-subsidiary DB Schenker acting as pioneer and developer.

The container loading process at Hamburg’s main transshipment station takes little time due to automated systems
The container loading process at Hamburg’s main transshipment station takes little time due to automated systems

Increasing attractiveness
In the infant days of trans-Eurasian cargo trains shippers and forwarding agents spoke of a courageous step to send goods by train from the Pacific Rim to European destinations or in the opposite direction. Different customs authorities, diverse data interpretations by the officials in Kazakhstan, Belarus, Russia or Mongolia, changing the containers twice from the Russian broad-guage to the Chinese and European standard guage, the problem of theft at the borders, where the trains had to stop for inspection and the harsh Siberian weather conditions seemed to be high obstacles for predictable traffic.

Meanwhile, these warnings have gone with the wind.
Theft? “There is none, the trains are guarded,” states Herr Rausch.
Delays? Hardly any since border controls and document checks have become routine.
Only extreme snowfall in winter hitting the northern Siberian track might cause problems. In that case the southern route across Kazakhstan is used exclusively.

Meanwhile the Eurasian rail solution is increasingly challenging traditional sea-air combination transports via the Gulf Region. The trains offer users a time advantage, the shipments go all the way from beginning to end without being unloaded at a Gulf harbor, transferred to a nearby airport, where they are repacked and consolidated before they are loaded on board a freighter bound to Europe. “Our rail offering is much simpler, extremely reliable, price competitive and at least as fast as sea-air combination transports via Dubai or Al Fujairah,” states a DB Schenker official.    

Hamburg becoming DB Schenker’s multi-modal gateway
The northern German city plays a decisive role in the agent’s future logistics plans. “Even today every third seafreight container moved by rail within Germany is originating in Hamburg or passing through the city. We intend establishing here a central hub with trans-European feeder services offered by rail, boat or plane for both imports and exports.” Rausch even goes further by saying that multi modal rail-air traffic is an interesting option. China produced goods could be transferred in Hamburg and be flown to destination at the Atlantic cost of the U.S. or Canada,” he says. “According to our estimates this would make a lot of sense.” He reminds that only some days ago a tri-modal cargo transport from China to Brazil was organized by his enterprise, with goods coming from China and railed to Germany, where they were brought by truck to Frankfurt Airport and flown out by LAN Cargo to Viracopos Airport. The entire project proved to be cheaper and faster compared to direct ocean transport from China through the Panama Canal to Santos at the Atlantic coast of Brazil. 


For more see: “DB Schenker Pioneers New Combination of Rail-Road-Air Shipping” of 18 August, CFG > Archive.

Cargolux China
Asked by CargoForwarder about logistics plans in Zhengzhou Governor Xie Fuzhan stated that Henan Province’s capital is on its way to becoming a major logistics center in central China. This plan is in full accord with development programs pushed forward by Beijing’s government. “Henan is a province of 106 million inhabitants. We consider ourselves being the region with the highest development potential of all Chinese provinces.” The politician confirmed intentions to set up a local cargo airline in Zhengzhou for offering feeder services. This project, he assured, is under way in close coordination with Cargolux. This is confirmed by Cargolux’s CEO, Dirk Reich. “The project name for that program is Cargolux China,” he says.

Heiner Siegmund

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