While rail container traffic between the Old Continent and China has been booming in recent years, the sanctions imposed by Europe on Russia in connection with the war in Ukraine could seriously jeopardize the Silk Road. In the current context, transport operators are particularly wary of the "cash and delivery" system.
Rail freight booms between China and Europe
Rail trade between the Old Continent and Asia is booming. The New Silk Road came into being in 2019, ensuring the transport of an ever-increasing number of French exports. For China, this new line represents a new gateway to Europe.
On average, rail transport is twice as fast as sea transport, and more economical than air transport. Since the pandemic, the pace has continued to increase, with some twenty stations at the start, 11,000 kilometers of track for around 22 days of travel, and almost two trains a day.
Transport flows interrupted by the war in Ukraine
The rail route through Moscow, Belarus, Poland and Germany has been largely disrupted since the start of the war in Ukraine. At least half of all customers have vanished because they refuse to let Russian railroads work, or are worried about the fate of their goods.
Against this backdrop, transport operators fear the cash-on-delivery system and higher insurance premiums for war risks.
" We have decided to suspend the service. We are no longer taking orders in both directions on the route until further notice ", reports Les Echos, a European operator offering block trains and wagonloads to its customers on this route.
An alternative solution to avoid Russia and Ukraine
An alternative solution would enable operators to avoid Russia and Ukraine altogether: a southern corridor via Kazakhstan, Georgia and Turkey. However, this 7,000-kilometer route presents a number of obstacles. Containers would have to be loaded onto a ship to cross the Caspian Sea, before reaching Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey by train.
Local governments are considering the Transcapian International Transport Route (TITR) operator, which claims to have handled over 96,000 containers since its launch in 2017. But despite a journey time to Europe that would be reduced from 60 or 45 days to around a fortnight, some operators have reservations, as until now, only 3% to 5% of volumes passed through the northern route in Russia, and there is no guarantee that the route will be able to absorb the volume that was handled by this major route, representing around 1.5 million containers a year.