14-15 September 2017, Duisburg, ESC voiced its position at the Market Place Seminar, an annual rail freight event, co-organized by the International Union of Railways (UIC) and International Federation of Freight Forwarders Association (FIATA). The ESC underlined the key success factors of a railway service for shippers: regularity, frequency, flexibility in capacity allocation, reliability, and existence of contingency plans.
The event, while focusing on the inter-connectivity within and outside Europe, looked at the development of the European corridors and the problems caused by the recent disruption in Germany, and discussed the progress achieved on the Europe-Asia rail corridors.
Unfortunately, the development of the European corridors that falls under the European Directive was aggravated by the closure of a very critical section of Karlsruhe Basel of the Rhine Alpine corridor. Contingency plans were not in place. Only 25% of the few hundreds of trains could be diverted to alternate rail routes hastily designed by DB Netz and the Infrastructure Managers (IMs) of the adjacent countries. The remaining part of the traffic had to be diverted to a barge or a truck transport. This caused significant delays and higher costs for all cargo owners and carriers. The situation also triggered a negative impact on the Western Europe road transport market, already stressed by a lack of drivers, as many trucks had to be channeled to this lane to compensate for the missing trains.
The presentations about the One Belt One Road (OBOR) activities, the initiative launched by the Chinese government, demonstrated more success. A close cooperation between different countries on the main rail route crossing China, Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, and Germany allowed to increase the number of weekly block trains coming from China to Western Europe from 5-10 to about 20 in the past 2 years. This is without counting the trains starting or ending their trips in the intermediate regions or countries. Cutting by half the delivery time used by maritime routes, the rail service is finding more and more Western European exporters interested to use this service. This could help to increase the filling ratio of return trains eastbound which is only 25% today.
Although, as admitted by some speakers, the rail transport, probably heavily subsidized by the crossed countries’ governments starting with China, remains more expensive than the sea route. This makes it attractive only for the goods for which speed is the main performance criteria and for which air transport is too expensive.