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Synergy effects of Transkazakhstan Trunk Railway and Paris-Shanghai Rail Express

Hans Herrmann

Lecture at the international conference “New transcontinental link between Asia and Europe” on 23 September 2005 in Almaty, Kazakh Academy of Transport and Communications.

East-West land traffic through Central Asia

Central Asia could be touched by two bundles of international trade flow, northern and southern of the Caspian Sea,
East-west: China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Philippines with Western Europe, Central Europe, East Europe, and
South-east: Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Pakistan with China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Philippines.
These trade flows, except with East Europe, are currently conducted almost exclusively by ship. The next faster but more expensive means of transport is the railway. Today’s it is not nearly as effective as the ship.

The foreign trade of East Asia with Europe and Western Asia is shown in the table. At present trade between east and west is about four times as large as between east and south. The container transport quantity between east and west has been rising for an average at a rate of more than 7 % per year, the greatest increase in the world. In the future, east with south may rise more than east with west.

Paris-Shanghai Rail Express (PS)

China and Europe’s industrial centres will be connected by a southern route with little snow and frost between 32 and 48 degrees northern latitude: Shanghai – Ürümqi - Volgograd - Vienna - Paris. This route has a length of 11,500 km in comparison to 19,350 km for the ship route Shanghai - Suez - Antwerp. It will be double-tracked at a later stage. Also in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) the gage will be 1,435 mm as in Western Europe and China. The route ends near Shanghai at a sea and air port with connections to Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines. - The map shows the route of the PS, black on existing lines which will be used in the first construction stages, red later on our own line; the ship route is shown in blue, and the other railway lines are in brown.

The transport capacity of the PS on the double-track line will total 200 mn t weight of goods or 16 mn 20-foot freight units per direction and year with trains travelling at a distance of 9 km from one another or at five-minute intervals. This equals the weight of goods through the Suez Canal or four times the present quantity of container ship transport between China and Europe without CIS. For this reason, the railway can be upgraded in stages until it reaches its full capacity. In the first stage transport on existing lines will be made faster and cheaper through special locomotives, wagons, reloading facilities, a superimposed telecontrol system and an organisation covering all involved and user countries. It will travel with block trains between only a few terminals. Because of this, even at the first stage at least two block trains per week and direction can travel between every one of the terminals in the east and the west, more than twice as often as the container ships. As long as gage-changing equipment remains so expensive, on the borders of the CIS the containers will be reloaded automatically onto trains with the same length and height of the platforms, but with the other gage, which will be located in the same position on a track beside to it.

The investment amounts to about 390 mn US-$ at a 2002 value, the transport capacity is 125,000 20-foot freight units per year and direction, and the journey time between Paris and Shanghai is nine days. The existing lines on this connection within the CIS should, when modernised, be working to capacity by 2015 and 2020 with other trains as well as the PS. By then the PS company’s own line, initially one-track, of about 5,000 km length will be laid there with a gage of 1,435 mm.

The PS will begin to work on a bigger scale when it receives conditions similar to transport by ship: only on the starting and destination terminal, not on transit, customs examinations and duties, security checks only automatically and on the border between the European Union and CIS and between China and CIS, low taxes. Even with all the measures taken in technology and organisation, the PS can only be competitive, because the travelling distance by ship is much longer and the Suez Canal has to be passed. Depending on the capacity, the freight costs with the PS amount to 1 to 0.5 cent of US-$ per ton weight of goods and kilometre compared with 0.45 to 0.25 with the container ship, plus for the longer route and journey time, the higher insurance charge, the more expensive packaging etc.. In the long term, when the PS is working with large capacity, it will be the cheapest means of goods transportation between Europe and China. The energy consumption and environmental impact are lower than with fast sea transport.

The journey time between Europe and China will be only slightly longer than by ship between Japan and China and not even half as long as between China and the USA, as can be seen in the table. The PS will therefore strongly simplify the exchange of goods. It would even be logistically possible to handle just-in-time production in China and Europe using components from the other region. For this reason the countries involved will experience powerful impulses in the further development of their economies.

Our opinion on the question of the gage is, that in the long term for transit in the CIS two lines with standard gage should be available, one between China and Central Europe and one between China and Iran, i.e. between railway networks with 1,435 mm gage. From and to the CIS we think the broad gage on all lines is the best solution. Otherwise changing facilities would be needed at several locations inside the CIS, and a part of the goods would not be reloaded onto trains with broad gage, but onto lorries and vice versa.

Transkazakhstan Trunk Railway (TKTR)

If as straight a route as possible is chosen between Dostyk/Kazakhstan and Gorgan/Iran, but in flat country, the line length with 1,435 mm gage on the area of the CIS is about 3,300 km, in contrast to 5,000 km between Dostyk/Kazakhstan and Suceava/Romania for the PS. With the TKTR the average transport distance between Western Asia and China amounts to about 8,500 km and with ship and land vehicle to about 13,000 km. Therefore the distances and journey times are shortened just as with the PS, as can be seen in the table. As the sea route is not so long, the harbour costs and standing times have a bigger effect. Therefore the freight costs per ton and kilometre by ship between Western and East Asia should really be higher than between East Asia and Western Europe. Thus the TKTR will not be subjected to price pressure through ship transport quite as much as the PS. The TKTR only runs through states with historical common grounds. Therefore it will be easier to come to the necessary agreements, and the project can be implemented in a shorter time. The TKTR can therefore start and operate profitably earlier than the PS. The economic impact of the TKTR on the countries involved will be comparably favourable as with the PS.

Synergy effects of TKTR and PS

In the first construction stages the PS can use a part of the line of the TKTR and likewise the line in China, which should be modernised and upgraded for the additional freight quantity of the TKTR. Further, the faster and simpler check of the trains and goods at the borders and the reduced duties and prices for using the lines which will be worked out at the time of the extension of the transit through Central Asia with the TKTR, will be of advantage to the PS. The PS can also use the experience of the TKTR with operation, with the management of the border-crossing trains and with the construction of the vehicles and the line.

The TKTR can consider the planning results for the PS and use parts of its systems concept. As the economic efficiency in comparison to transport by ship is decisive for the PS, solutions for reducing costs have been developed, which are also interesting for the TKTR, and elements of the concept of organisation and the business plan too.

Finally both projects will profit from the decrease of the freight costs in China with a rising transport quantity by train and by the attraction of fast and cheap transports through Central Asia.

Mike Knutton: New plan for Europe-China rail link. International Railway Journal, Rail Outlook 2003, p.12...13.
PSrail: PS. Paris-Shanghai Rail Express - an efficient transport system for goods between Europe and China. Biberach an der Riss, 2002/2005.
Kazakhstan Temir Zholy: Construction of Transkazakhstan Trunk Railway. Astana 2005.

23 September 2005