Amber region of the New Silk Road: transit opportunities for Kaliningrad

The New Silk Road stretches across many countries, connecting Asia and Europe.   Many logistics centers are located at the intersection of different routes, including the Kaliningrad region, which enters Europe through two major Russian seaports and two land border crossings, shining with amber light. 

 In 2021, the first multimodal transit shipment of cargo along the Kaliningrad direction from China to Great Britain was carried out.   A container train loaded with 50 40-foot containers traveled from the Chinese city of Xi’an through the Altynkol border crossing in Kazakhstan, soon reaching the Kaliningrad Commercial Seaport for transshipment to feeder ships and onward shipment to the port of Immingham, UK, on the regular service of JSC UTLC ERA.   The shipment, totaling 100 TEU, includes car parts, parts for industrial equipment, video game consoles, medical supplies and other goods.  

 What opportunities are there for Chinese and European shippers on the China-Europe route through Kaliningrad?   What goods are sent along this route?   And what awaits the Kaliningrad region as a transit region in the near future?   Alexei Grom, General Director of UTLC ERA, which provides rail service on the broad gauge of 1520 China-Europe-China route (including the route through the Kaliningrad region), answered relevant questions in an online interview with Xinhua. 

 Kaliningrad region is located at the heart of Europe and has a convenient transport connection, with developed rail, road and sea transport.   The region’s services have great growth potential due to the possibility of using both the infrastructure of land border crossings and multimodal communication through ports.   The transit corridor through Kaliningrad opens up access to many European countries:   Northern Europe, Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, the countries of Southeast Europe – Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and the countries bordering them.   Containers have already been shipped to the U.S. through the Kaliningrad corridor by multimodal services of UTLC ERA. 

 “Prospects for growth through the Kaliningrad region, in my opinion, are very promising.   This year, according to our forecasts, the volume of shipments may exceed 100,000 TEU.   The growth in volumes is provided by the expanded capacity of corridors – both multimodal and direct rail connections.   According to our estimates, the potential of this corridor is already in the range of 400-500 thousand TEU per year.” 

 Alexei Grom noted that the Kaliningrad region plays the role of a reliable logistics hub on the China-Europe route.   This region provides an opportunity to increase traffic between Europe and Asia.  

 To handle the increased volume of freight traffic, Kaliningrad Railways is opening new stations and developing existing border crossings.   For example, the construction of a new container terminal has begun at the Chernyakhovsk station in Kaliningrad Oblast, which could increase the container handling capacity of the station by 1.5 times. 

 “Even if for some reason the European railway infrastructure will not be able to handle the amount of cargo offered by cargo owners, all these additional volumes can be handled by Kaliningrad ports, lines of sea carriers, their partners in European ports.   The possibility of multimodal communication through Kaliningrad ports makes the throughput virtually unlimited.”

 From March 2020 to March 2021, such categories of goods as timber and wood products, textiles, rubber and rubber products, paper and cardboard products, and pharmaceutical products displayed high throughput volumes along the UTLC ERA transit services through the Kaliningrad region last year.  The volume of pharmaceutical products on their way from Europe to China through the Mamonovo/Branevo border crossing has almost quadrupled.   In the same direction, the volume of perfumes, cosmetics and toiletries increased by more than 5 times. 

 The basic component of multimodal transportation is the use of unified documentation.   The transport corridor through Kaliningrad supports the unified CIM/COTIF (Convention concerning International Carriage by Rail) consignment note.    The CIM/COTIF Single Document of Carriage is valid in the legal transport regimes of China, Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus and Europe.   Thus, there is no need to reissue the waybill during a train’s route, which avoids the possibility of errors in the reissuing of documents, and can optimize transportation costs, technology and timing of delivery of goods. 

 The unified CIM/COTIF consignment note was used for the first time for two modes of transport by multimodal service on UTLC ERA rail services and through the seaport of Mukran in 2019.   The train followed the route Xi’an — Kaliningrad — Mukran — Hamburg.  

 “Despite the fact that there are many parties involved in transportation through the Kaliningrad region and different modes of transport, the corridor shows a high level of integration of all these parties, and we believe that in 2021 this corridor will set new records for our Chinese and European customers.”