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Report: Rail terminals in Europe struggling to handle Asian volumes

The east-west freight rail corridor has exploded in volume, particularly from Asia to Europe, causing bottlenecks and delays as European terminals and its infrastructure cannot handle the increase in volumes, according to a report from the JOC.

Photo: Prasit Rodphan /
Increasing Asian rail volumes are leading to delays and bottlenecks at European terminals, leading shippers to revert to shipping cargo via truck.

   Delays of up to a week are being reported on the European end of the China-Europe rail network as fast-growing container volume begins to overpower terminal capacity, according to a report from the Journal of Commerce
   Multiple shippers have commented on the delays, citing ranges of two to six days in various cities between Asia and Europe. Delays such as these “which is damaging the transit time advantage that train should bring vs ocean,” the JOC said.
   Shippers said he delays are new as of this year and are worried as the industry heads into peak season. According to JOC, there were 53 weekly trains into Europe and 23 headed back to Asia by the end of May.
   “Last year, 40,000 containers moved by train between Asia and Europe, according to DB Schenker, which expects volume to increase to more than 100,000 containers by 2020. Other estimates put potential 2020 volumes at 500,000 FEUs. Those strong projections are due to the substantial transit and costs savings of rail compared to ocean or air,” said the report.
   Track and terminal capacity is slowly being overrun in Europe, causing these bottlenecks experienced by shippers. According to a July report from the European Rail Freight Association (ERFA) there are 22 new construction sites on the north-south corridor in Europe, warning that “longer journey times and train cancellations risked alienating shippers in Europe from choosing rail as an attractive alternative to road.”
   ERFA cites the inconsistency of services and lack of reliability in rail that is causing the shift back to the roads. Rail infrastructure needs to be improved and done in a n orderly way as to reduce the negative impact of end-to-end service offers for shippers and customers, said ERFA.
   “Basic household goods such as washing powder, pet food, as well as key industrial goods, tyres, plastic granulates for automotive industry, and parcel delivery services are heavily impacted,” ERFA said in a statement to JOC. The association also said that the disruption to rail services also had a “devastating impact on the viability of smaller railway companies, risking future of competition in the sector.”
   In its report, ERFA argued the EU needed to implement rules to make rail more competitive.
   “The removal of more than 11,000 national rules, which heavily contribute to a fragmented and more costly rail market,” the association said. Additionally, ERFA is concerned with “the transparency of how track access charges are calculated and passed on to railway undertakings,” as operators may be paying too much.
   “These are two major steps forward towards a more competitive and simplified rail system, allowing rail to better compete with other modes of transport and to drive changes,” ERFA said.