KTZ tests new China-Europe route to avoid the congested Black Sea

Source: RailFreight
Date: 3rd March 2023

Kazakhstan Railways (KTZ) sent the first trans-Caspian China-Europe train from Jiaozhou, in eastern China, to the port of Koper, in Slovenia. The convoy, loaded with new electric vehicles, covered the 13,000-kilometre route in 45 days. This was the first time that this route was tested.

The train left Jiaozhou and crossed the north of China entering Kazakhstan via the Khorgos border crossing and then reached Altynkol. From there, the cargo was moved on the Caspian Sea and sent to the port of Poti, in Georgia. There, the load was moved back on the rail and reached the Slovenian port via Trukey.

No need to cross the Black Sea
This first trip can be considered as a test to find new routes that would avoid crossing the Black Sea. Despite being a shorter route, traveling via the Black Sea allows for much less capacity. Moreover, the war in Ukraine is contributing to the creation of significant bottlenecks on this route.

However, some big shipping companies have made new moves to develop Black Sea routes. However, capacity on the trans-Black Sea route is still significantly lower compared to the total number of China-Europe trains. An example of this discrepancy is the Georgian port of Batumi. The port had a total throughput of 119,471 TEUs in 2022, while China-Europe Express moved 1,6 million TEUs.

While the new route is being developed, the uncertainty caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine poses a challenge to insurance coverage for ships crossing the Black Sea. Many insurers are hesitant to insure this leg of the route, forcing shippers and platform companies to look for alternative. Avoiding the Black Sea makes is expected to make the journey quite shorter as well. Inisights from industry insiders pointed out that the route across the two seas for China-Europe trains can exceed 90 days.

Increasing rail transit via Turkey
The new route was chosen to replace shipping via the Black Sea with rail transport through Turkey. In the wake of the war in Ukraine, Turkey has in fact seen a surge in transport flows. In the case of most trains directed to central Europe, for example, many companies have abandoned the northern route through Russia due to the EU sanctions on the Kremlin. If these companies still wish to transport their freight to Europe by rail, they will therefore need to take a detour via Turkey.

On February 25, the EU adopted its tenth set of sanctions against Russia, including a “ban on the transit of civilian and military goods to third countries through Russian territory. The release of the new sanctions may make this new route to Europe seem particularly appropriate, and Turkey’s position in the international logistics map may also receive a new interpretation.

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