Czech Rail runs China-Slovakia freight via Ukraine

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China-Slovakia Freight Ukraine
Ukraine seeks international partnerships to upgrade and expand its rail capabilities. Source: Ukrainian Railways

Czech Metrans Rail will operate a weekly China-Slovakia freight train crossing Ukraine in November, cutting 520 km off the usual Belarus-Poland route.

In late September, Metrans Rail, a private Czech company, ran a 44-container train from Xi’an, China to Danube-Streda, Slovakia. The experiment proved the efficiency and cost savings of the pilot China-Slovakia freight route via Ukraine.

China-EU rail freight traffic across Ukraine would jump in the 2020s if Austria builds a 450 km extension to an existing Soviet-era wide gauge track that runs from Chop, Zakarpattia to Košice, Slovakia. The goal is to create an 11,000 km rail corridor capable of moving containers from Vladivostok to Vienna in 15 days. For trains from China, only one gauge change would be needed – either on the China-Kazakhstan border or on the China-Mongolia border.

Austria’s Transport Ministry and Austrian Federal Railways, or ÖBB, are applying for permits to build the east-west extension, the Zaliznychnye Postachannya news site reported. The construction cost, including the construction of a rail bridge over the Danube, would be €6.7 billion, the Center for Transportation Strategies estimates. The 1520 mm gauge rail extension is designed to carry 16 million tons a year, relieving overloading on EU lines. But the European Commission refuses to fund it. Some analysts say that extending Russia-gauge track into the heart of Central Europe is a security risk.

Rebranding a standard electric locomotive the ‘Cossack’, China’s CRRC Datong seems to have an edge in a multi-billion dollar competition to supply Ukrzalinytsia with up to 500 new electric locomotives in the 2020s. “Chinese partners offer modern locomotives that can significantly improve the situation with the locomotive fleet and bring Ukrzaliznytsia to a higher level of competitiveness,” UZ CEO Yevhen Kravtsov said after meeting in Kyiv with executives of CRRC Corporation Limited.

Financing and locomotive production in Ukraine are key, Infrastructure Minister Vladislav Krikliy stressed at the meeting. “We are interested in creating a joint venture with foreign partners, which will be localized in Ukraine,” he said.

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CRRC Zhuzhou Locomotive Co., is negotiating the sale of locomotives to Lemtrans, owner of Ukraine’s largest private fleet of freight cars. In the coming weeks, Lemtrans executives are to visit CRRC’s electric locomotive plant in central China’s Hunan Province. In Kyiv last week for Rail Expo 2019, Fu Yanping, CRRC’s deputy director for international relations of CRRC, says he also discussed locomotive supply and production with the Association of Ukrainian Rail Carriers, a group of private companies.

Lemtrans, DTEK, Ferrexpo, and Kernel are preparing to run private freight trains as soon as enabling legislation is passed, according to the Center for Transportation Strategies. Dmitry Demidovich, Lemtrans director for the development, says company-owned locomotives would cut in half – to four days – the turn around time for coal trains running 250 km from Aromatna, Dnipropetrovsk Region to Enerhodar power plant in Zaporizhia. DTEK also wants to ship coal to the same power plant. Ferrexpo wants to ship iron pellets to Pivdenii, the Black Sea Port. Kernel wants to ship grain to ports.

Ukrzaliznytsia wants to see the first private freight trains by the end of this year, Andrei Ryazantsev, the railroad’s business development director, said. “Today the question is no longer: private traction – to be or not to be?,” he says. Instead, he tells the Center for Transportation Strategies, the challenge is to adopt and implement effective regulations.

Source: Ukraine Business News e-newsletter

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