RCG is hungry
Rail transport between Europe and China is growing rapidly. The national Austrian rail operator intends to garner a share of this growth and transport one third of the cargo volumes on the routes it has targeted within four years.
The Rail Cargo Group (RCG), the freight company of the Austrian Federal Railways ÖBB, has ambitious expansion plans that extend as far as China. RCG put 115 million t on the rails last year, and in the next few years they want to push this volume up to approximately 150 million t. Of course, this will not be achieved only in the home market, but also in the European one and with a strong focus on China too, as RCG board member Thomas Kargl told the ITJ in Vienna.
The goal for 2025 is ambitious. “We want to increase our volumes by 40% by 2025.” This growth is to be brought about internationally, and will not come about on its own and organically. It will be boosted with the help of company purchases, investment in terminals and by buying additional resources to increase productivity.
400 trains this year
As far as ÖBB is concerned the future lies in rail-based intermodal transport by container. Various operators, freight forwarders and logisticians are currently busy developing their trade links along the new Silk Road. RCG wants to make a name for itself in this project and operate 400 blocktrains from China to Europe by the end of this year.
Trains will primarily be routed via Russia, with five different routes possible there. The standard gauge in China is the same as in Europe (1,435 mm), but in Russia it is wider (1,520 mm). Thus goods are always transhipped or the gauges of wagons changed at the borders. Almost all trains travel to Europe via Belarus / Poland, but there are bottlenecks. RCG is therefore looking for alternative routes. “We have good contacts in the Ukrainian railways and route our trains to Europe via Ukraine and Chop / Dobra,” says Kargl.
In China there are about 30 projects run by regional government authorities that bring trains loaded with export goods to the borders. The trains on the Chinese side are run by the public sector. Government digital platforms are used to commission operators to drive the trains to the border.
The border stations are used as consolidation and de-consolidation points, and broad-gauge trains are assembled and sent to Europe from there. “We want to be able to distribute the trains and the load in Europe, and conversely consolidate the trains and the cargo for transport to China,” Kargl took time to underscore.
The communication threads to operate the trains will converge in Shanghai this year, when RCG opens an office there. By 2022 RCG expects transport volumes to come to approximately 1 million teu in China–Europe–China trade, of which RCG wants to capture one third. Currently the most straightforward Silk Road is the northern route via Russia and Belarus, because this option is largely electrified and double-tracked.
The central route via Kazakhstan is still single-tracked but it does offer good potential for improvement, with modern terminal structures are already being established in Khorgas, on the Chinese side of the border.
Personnel problems cloud the picture
A look back at 2017 offers a more sombre picture for Kargl, the year when capacity problems on rail and road became apparent. There is a shortage of truck drivers and there is an emerging shortage of locomotive drivers that threatens to create a bottleneck for the smooth operation of the business. Against this background, RCG should seize the moment and score points with shippers and other network users by delivering fast and frequent train services.