UTLC ERA CEO: Product Range on China–Europe Trains Gets Widens as Traffic Is Growing

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More than 2,000 years ago, Zhang Qian, a traveler fr om the Western Han dynasty, crossed the Kunlun Mountains and sailed through the “vast seas.” It was then that the beauty of porcelain and silk, the aroma of walnuts and pomegranates, the incessantly ringing bells, and clattering hooves became essential to the long route which became known as the Silk Road.

Twenty centuries later, the track trodden by long caravans has turned into a railroad for high-speed trains, which, one after another, transport cars powered by alternative fuels, plastic products, and other goods; these ‘caravan trains’ have given rise to a robust transport route ensuring global value chains. China-to-Europe trains unveil multiple opportunities for countries engaged in construction under the Belt and Road Initiative.

During the interview held by a China News journalist in Shenzhen, Alexey Grom, UTLC ERA CEO, noted that during the ten years that have passed since the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative, the China-to-Europe trains have significantly boosted traffic, whereas companies based in the countries engaged in the Belt and Road Initiative have discovered new markets. With that, new routes and business opportunities have emerged as well. The joint construction under the Belt and Road Initiative project contributes to the development of infrastructure worldwide, while other sectors of the economy and public life show considerable growth wh ere the railway is built.

UTLC ERA is one of the Top 3 major container operators in Russia, which accounts for over 50% of the market share in Kazakhstan and Belarus. After it finally created its business model in 2016, UTLC ERA has been successfully expanding its container transportation services as part of container unit trains running across three countries, namely, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Belarus.

“The company’s accelerated growth is inextricably linked with the Belt and Road Initiative and its effective cooperation with the Eurasian Economic Union,” says Alexey Grom. On direct China-to-Europe routes, 9 of 10 containers are carried out through UTLC ERA services, thus providing a convenient link between the European Union and China and bringing multiple benefits to international shippers.

Alexey Grom says that the most noticeable result in recent years has been a significant increase in cargo traffic. According to the company, in the first nine months of 2023, almost 500,000 TEUs were shipped through UTLC ERA services, and cargo traffic grew 25-fold compared to 2015, while the range of transported goods is ever widening.

Since the launch of the first China-to-Europe train, the shipped items have traditionally been electronics, machinery, and cars. As services developed, they started carrying cargo with a value comparable to transportation costs, including paper, cardboard, plastic products, car tires, etc.

In H1 2023, cars exported from China to Russia through UTLC ERA services, both conventional and powered by alternative fuels, increased 13-fold year-over-year. “If you pay attention to the Russian market, you can often see cars of Chinese brands,” notes Alexey Grom. This indicates both the attractiveness of Chinese products in foreign markets and the demand for related railroad shipping. According to the company's data, the percentage of Chinese vehicles powered by alternative fuels, exported to Russia by rail is continuously growing.

Speaking about plans, Alexey Grom notes that UTLC ERA intends to further improve its service quality and increase traffic up to 1 million TEUs. Joint efforts of all market players, synchronized development of infrastructure, collaboration with regulators, and active involvement of shippers are required to achieve this goal, he emphasizes.

The joint construction under the Belt and Road Initiative suits the interests of all countries and will bring huge benefits, Alexey Grom says. “I hope more countries would join the initiative,” he says. The company believes that China-to-Europe trains will continue to play a huge role in the development and stability of global value chains.