Rail transports to and across Poland have broken new records in recent years, both in terms of volumes and the number of cargo train runs. However, since Russia's attack on Ukraine and
the resulting Western sanctions, the situation has changed drastically. This is most visible at Malaszewicze rail hub, located close to the border of neighboring Belarus, and discussed during a
webinar organized by the Rotterdam-based RailFreight.com platform.
Malaszewicze is a tiny spot, difficult even for Poles to find on the map. Yet, it is a giant when it comes to rail freight. Over the past years it has developed into one of the hot spots of cargo trains rolling along the northern or middle corridor, across the vast Eurasian land bridge linking the Far East and Europe. In the small Polish town, the Russian broad-gauge track (1520mm) ends, and the European standard gauge (1435 mm) begins. Hence, containers have to be shifted from rolling stock of broad gauge onto standard gauge, when heading from East to West and vice versa.
The RailFreight.com webinar held on Friday (19AUG22), provided figures that illustrated how dramatically volumes have decreased. According to statistics, the number of containers transported westbound via Malaszewicze in the first half of 2022, went south by 40%. In the case of rail shipments traveling eastbound, the slump since January was even more significant: minus 66% in a year-on-year comparison. Many customers have safety concerns, while others have decided to avoid using cargo trains crossing Russian territory, the experts believe.
Since Russia’s assault on Ukraine, Poland’s role in the international rail freight market has fundamentally changed. Whereas it used to be the gateway to Europe for goods railed from East Asia to Europe via Malaszewicze, the Polish rail sector has to reinvent itself if it wants to continue to play an important role in transcontinental traffic.
Traffic shifts lead to falling revenues
Meanwhile, Prague has taken over the role as rail hub, because train runs have shifted to the southern routes, bypassing Russian territory. The journeys take longer compared to the northern and middle routes leading via Siberia, but they are safer, argue forwarders and shippers, and this is also reflected in insurance costs.
Because the modal shift has marginalized Poland, the country is losing important revenue. For example, railroad companies must pay to use tracks, based on kilometers, the weight of the rolling material, noise emissions, and other components. The Polish treasury is currently lacking much of this influx.
At least, one good piece of news
However, David Aloia, Vice President of Landbridge China and Managing Director of Shuttle Net Northeast of the Swiss rail freight company, Hupac, tabled a positive message. His company will soon start operating the new Brwinow rail freight hub, located about 25 km southwest of downtown Warsaw. The project entails 5 railway tracks and offers 160,000 m² of space for the handling of containers and other logistics activities. From day one, Hupac expects 4 to 5 train pairs per day. Although not operational yet, the second phase is already standing in the books, upping the number of tracks to 8. This would allow the handling of 10 to 12 train pairs each day. However, Hupac has not yet decided when phase 2 in Brwinow will commence.
Presumably this depends, as many things do at present, on the end of the Russo-Ukrainian war, and the lifting of Western sanctions imposed on the Kremlin. Only then is Poland likely to regain its role as a transcontinental hub for rail freight. This was consented by all experts participating in the RailFreight.com webinar.
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