China continues to build strength in the global logistics market. Despite the country’s leading position, a shortage of available containers, frequent overbookings, long border crossing queues, and skyrocketing rates present challenges that are difficult to overcome for road, rail, and sea shipments.
Queues at railway border crossings are due mainly to low export volumes from Europe and the CIS to China and more traffic in the opposite direction. As a result, returning platforms via the China-Kazakhstan and China-Russia borders is difficult, and Chinese companies are the first to handle any empty containers that do happen to be returned.
“Delays at the Erenhot-Zamyn-Uud, Manzhouli-Zabaykalsk and Alashankou-Dostyk crossings can last up to a week. The eastern borders are more crowded, as goods flow through these railroad crossings not only to the EU but also to Russia and Belarus,” says Vladislav Martin, Head of the EU/China Rail Transport Department.
Not only the rails are crowded
The situation is similar at road border crossings, where the waiting time for clearance is up to 10 days. Extended transit times have a negative impact on production planning and the supply chain organization. Transport by road is less attractive, as it is one and a half times more costly than by sea or rail, with equivalent delivery times due to border queues and pandemic-related issues.
“Only 20-40 trucks per day pass through the Pograniczny-Suifenhe, Pokrowka-Dongning and Turij Rog-Mishan road border crossings. For comparison, on the Kukuryki-Kozlowicze border, the capacity in both directions is 2,000 trucks,” explains Vladislav Martin.
The blockade of the Suez Canal further exacerbated the complex conditions in the container market. As a result, rates are rising again, yet space availability on ships and trains is growing at dizzying speeds.
The Silk Road’s Polish gate
Most of the trains from China to Europe pass through Poland via the country’s main border crossing at Terespol-Malaszewicze. However, the rail terminal is operating at maximum capacity and needs to be modernized.
“The expansion of the terminal is a response to constantly growing rail container traffic. As a consequence, the border terminal’s transhipment capacity must be increased. Last year, thanks to EU funding, the modernization of the Polish National Railway (PKP) terminal in Małaszewicze began. Storage and transshipment yards are being expanded and new equipment is being provided. Thanks to the reorganization, the number of trains handled is increasing and handling times are falling,” emphasizes Ewa Trochimiuk, Railway Transport Manager at AsstrA.
By 2026, PKP plans to invest in a logistics park in Malaszewicze with a new container terminal that can support longer trains arriving from Asia. These trains will be 1,050 meters long as opposed to the 750 meter-long ones currently supported. Also, thanks to the modernization of the tracks, the trains will be able to travel at 40 km/h instead of the current 20 km/h.
“Malaszewicze is already a transshipment hub, but the construction of the logistics park is intended to increase the capacity of the railway crossing on the Brest-Terespol border and ease the barriers to growing intermodal train traffic from China to Europe. Currently, the PKP terminal handles 14 train pairs a day on a 1,520 mm track. Ultimately, 55 train pairs will be supported by 2026,” emphasizes Ewa Trochimiuk.
In 2020, the trade in goods between the European Union and the Middle Kingdom was worth a total of EUR 586 billion. During this time, 592,000 TEUs were transported from China to the EU via Malaszewicze. Despite the availability of alternative border crossings, such as Izow-Hrubieszow or Czop-Zahony, Malaszewicze will be crucial for the success of the New Silk Road.