A trans-Caspian addition
The Eurasian landbridge is pointing the way forward. Railway container throughput figures at the Khorgas / Altynkol border station have improved, as has the exchange of data. Over and above this, Felb and PKP are initiating a first trans-Caspian train.
The Khorgas / Altynkol border rail station, on Kazakhstan’s frontier with China, is sometimes called the world’s largest dry dock. This may be an exaggeration, but the latest figures for transport activities there, published by the national railway firm Kazakhstan Temir Zholy (KTZ), provide cause for optimism. It said that the volume of transit containers transported there grew by 52% in H1 / 2018.
International transport services across Kazakhstan are also developing well, with no less than 1,861 container trains carrying 180,000 teu passing through the country in the period. KTZ’s overall transport volumes, in turn, stayed the same, very roughly speaking. H1 / 2018 saw 122 million t hauled, compared to 128 million t in H1 / 2017. The firm has predicted that it will shift 800,000 containers from China to Europe by 2020.
New routes are expected to contribute too. Poland’s PKP LHS has teamed up with Far East Land Bridge (Felb) to organise the first transport of containers on the trans-Caspian route, from Sławków, in the Polish province of Silesia, to Urumqi, in the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang Uyghur. The aim is to test a central corridor of the international trans-Caspian transport route, running from China to Sławków (the western-most handling centre in the broad-gauge network), via Kazakhstan, the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan, Georgia, the Black Sea and Ukraine through. The terminal in Sławków can handle around 280,000 teu a year.
Felb board chairman Wilhelm Patzner believes that the new route represents an answer to growing demand for the export of foodstuffs from Europe to China. “Italian kiwis, Polish apples, European meat and sweets – they’re can all be transported to China in less than 20 days.”
More potential in 2018
The peak is yet to be attained. According to Sagyndyk Zhumabayev, the firm KTZH Freight Transportation’s deputy director general for marketing, 2018 has seen around seven container trains handled in Khorgas every day. “In the peak period, that is to say in the fourth quarter, we expect 14–16 trains to pass on average every day, however,” he added.” Another positive aspect of developments, KTZH says, is that on average, container trains passing through Kazakhstan cover 941 km a day, or 53 km more per day than in the same period last year.
Digital improvements too
Speeding up the pace of overland transit is not the firm’s only objective, however. Copper data-transmission cables running between Altynkol station and Khorgas city were replaced recently by optical fibre cables, which has resulted in the significant speeding up of data exchanges, as well as of the issuing of dispatch papers, at the border. Zhandos Untakbayev, head of the Altynkol border station, said that the move sees information arrive thirty times faster than before. This, in turn, means that a container train can be handled even faster, thus further cutting the three hours and 55 minutes it currently spends in this process.