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Old July 21st, 2011, 10:42 PM   #1
1772
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MISC | Could the transsiberian railway rival ships in Asia to Europe cargo?

If you think of it; Russia has a great potential in it's transsiberian railway.

If they adopted american-style gigantic and kilometer long cargo trains, that would go from China to central Europe; they might start to compete with cargo ships.

Sure, you wouldn't be able to have as much cargo as on a ship, but in the end it could turn out to be cost efficient since the price of shipping is getting higher with risk of piracy and higher fuels costs.

What do you think?
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Old July 21st, 2011, 10:53 PM   #2
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Quote:
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What do you think?
...damned 1520 mm gauge
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Old July 22nd, 2011, 12:39 AM   #3
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Yeah, American railfreight is most efficient at long-distance bulk-goods transportation to the detriment of everything else (/snark). But a private operator linking the standard-gauge Chinese and Euro networks together would make a killing methinks. Especially if he/she/they had experience managing American railfreight.

A service recently started running from Chongqing to I-forget-where-in-Europe via Urumqi and the Transsib*. Even with the daylong layovers necessitated by the two gauge changes, IIRC the freight still got there in half the time (a week) than it could by ship.

With no gauge changes, and with good scheduling, I think it's possible to get freight from interior China's major rail termini (Chongqing on the Yangtze, and Xi'an/Lanzhou on the Yellow) to a major Central European rail terminus (either Rzeszów or Kosice, most likely) at a mean speed of 90-100km/h (~60mph) in about five days, and to undercut seaborne shippers while at it, too. Unfortunately, such a venture would necessitate a colossally expensive initial investment, just due to its sheer length--on the order of U.S. $500bn (and maybe as high as a trillion)--which is much too high to get financed without significant federal aid from interested countries, and which would also involve a Russian leg near Chechnya and through Astrakhan--a leg which Russia would (rightly) consider detrimental to its national security since it would provide strong competition with the Transsib.
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* If you look at the track maps it has to be the Transsib. Believe it or not, there's no intra-Kazakhstan railroad from Aral'sk to Almaty, much less along the natural extension of this route through Astrakhan.
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Old July 22nd, 2011, 12:44 AM   #4
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Its generally believed that transporting goods by sea rather than by Rail due to better coastal access is one of the key economic advantages of Europe over the US.
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Old July 22nd, 2011, 12:53 AM   #5
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Well,there are already pretty solid plans being made and it's got very far from idea level One option would be this: China (and other countries in Asia) > Kazakhstan > Russia > Baltics. Apart from China all countries have 1520mm track gauge,so expensive switch gauge trains are not needed (trains will be loaded/unloaded at Chinese border)
In three Baltic countries - Estonia,Latvia & Lithuania - the cargo would be loaded onto ships and shipped to Western Europe etc. First container cargo train using such route should be operational within next few years.

Biggest unreliability will be Russia - this route is largely dependant on their railway taxes. If they will be raised,then the route would not manage to compete with ordinary shipping by sea.
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Old July 22nd, 2011, 12:54 AM   #6
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That does not translate to an overall Eurasian context--or even to Central Europe east of the Germanic/Slavic language barrier, however--in other words, once sea access starts to require time-prohibitive detours. (Think about how much longer it takes to get cargo from New York to San Francisco via the Panama Canal vs. the UP and NS mains.) These detours to come into play, for example, when one has to navigate around India, through the Suez Canal, and around Iberia to ship cargo from London to Shanghai--or one has to navigate through the Oresund, around Iberia, through the Straits of Gibraltar, and up the Adriatic to bring cargo via the sea from Stockholm to Dubrovnik. In this case, fast rail service, again, becomes competitive with overseas shipping.
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Old July 22nd, 2011, 06:17 AM   #7
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I think land, border, gauge and tax issues all come to play against such alternative in the short term.

The US freight system is unique in its design meant to deal efficiently with long-distance freight.

However, one must not forget the detour via Panama Canal, and its limitations in regard of superlarge modern vessels, put transcontinental US rai shipment at greater advantage to sea transport than the relatively "mild" countours of India and Arabian Peninsule en-route to Suez.
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Old July 22nd, 2011, 06:29 AM   #8
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As far as I'm aware, the European freight rail system isn't developed enough that it would serve as an effective "end of the line" of a system linking two of the three largest economies in the world, and having the EU unprepared for this sort of development when it'd be one of the major beneficiaries/utilizers of this sort of system due to sheer economic size makes me doubt the prospects of it, at least in the near future. Additionally, it seems like the efficiency in terms of freightload per train vs. cargo ships isn't favorable.

I'm asking out of ignorance, but is there some reason (other than avoiding pirates) that the Suez Canal isn't used as the main throughway from Asia to Europe? And if it's just the size of the passage, why wouldn't such a potentially valuable access point be enlarged?
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Old July 22nd, 2011, 09:00 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Suburbanist View Post
However, one must not forget the detour via Panama Canal, and its limitations in regard of superlarge modern vessels, put transcontinental US rai shipment at greater advantage to sea transport than the relatively "mild" countours of India and Arabian Peninsule en-route to Suez.
The Panama Canal is in the process of being enlarged, isn't it? I'm not sure without looking it up how much larger ships it'll be able to accomodate.
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Old July 22nd, 2011, 10:24 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by aquaticko View Post
I'm asking out of ignorance, but is there some reason (other than avoiding pirates) that the Suez Canal isn't used as the main throughway from Asia to Europe? And if it's just the size of the passage, why wouldn't such a potentially valuable access point be enlarged?
The Suez Canal can be an is used by most ships, only the largest oil tankers can´t use the canal (40% of all tankers). But the current largest container ships can pass the Suezcanal without any big problems.

The current tests runs with container trains via the Transiberian Railway has more to do with the railway companies (mainly the Russian Railways and DB Schenker) also wanting a piece of the pie of the growing container shipping market between China and Europe. They are marketing it as an inbetween alternative to container shipping and airfreight. It will only be successful if they can keep the costs and burocracy as low as possible, and at first only as niche market.

But if it works it could come quite successful, also because the manufacturing industry in China is also moving inland.
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Old July 22nd, 2011, 10:32 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by aquaticko View Post
I'm asking out of ignorance, but is there some reason (other than avoiding pirates) that the Suez Canal isn't used as the main throughway from Asia to Europe? And if it's just the size of the passage, why wouldn't such a potentially valuable access point be enlarged?
But it is the main Aisan-Europe route! The Suez Canal has no locks, so almost all vessels can pass there.
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Old July 22nd, 2011, 12:33 PM   #12
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The business plan for the Europe-Asia railway was that it would fill a niche between Sea (cheap but slow) and Air (expensive but fast)

There's more info here:

http://www.worldcargonews.com/htm/w20110412.518955.htm

http://www.railwaymarket.eu/rm2008/p..._-_Hamburg.pdf
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Old July 22nd, 2011, 02:26 PM   #13
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Thanks Momo and Suburbanist. I suppose it's natural being an American and all, but I normally only ever hear about Panamax ships and the problem they present to trade, so I was just wondering. That being the case, despite the geographical and topographical features working against it, wouldn't it be a safe bet that future land shipping from East Asia to Europe will go across the Subcontinent and then leave from, perhaps, Mumbai and go through the Suez Canal?? Or is that just too far from reality to be feasible in the near future?
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Old July 22nd, 2011, 03:52 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by aquaticko View Post
Thanks Momo and Suburbanist. I suppose it's natural being an American and all, but I normally only ever hear about Panamax ships and the problem they present to trade, so I was just wondering. That being the case, despite the geographical and topographical features working against it, wouldn't it be a safe bet that future land shipping from East Asia to Europe will go across the Subcontinent and then leave from, perhaps, Mumbai and go through the Suez Canal?? Or is that just too far from reality to be feasible in the near future?
You need a China-India railway line first.

Plus, it'd be faster and cheaper to ship from the port in Burma, after the China-Burma line is completed. The earliest date mentioned is 2015.
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Old July 22nd, 2011, 04:34 PM   #15
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It will take some time before the economic utility of a Eurasian transcontinental can be realized...Regardless, to maximize its utility (and profitability) instances of transshipment (via gauge changes, ship-to-train transshipment, and interchanges) will need to be minimized, such those transshipments are the major time-killers.

With two transshipments (gauge change at Chinese-Kazakh border and port transshipment in the Baltics) a service running Chongqing/Lanzhou/Xi'an-Urumqi-Novosibirsk (Transsib interchange) should prove quite quick and cost-effective. However, once the initial cost-effectiveness is shown, shorter paths (via several means, including a cutoff through Kazakhstan to meet the Transsib closer to, say, Chelyabinsk, and an ambitious new standard-gauge mainline from Urumqi to a classification terminal in the EU's far east) will likely start to appear. This I would give a 50-year timeframe.*

Like I said, the type of operations that would be most profitable in this environment hew more towards American (Chinese, Russian, Australian)-style long-distance freight railroading than towards European short-distance truck competition. And like I also said, there are routes--predominantly in the EU's far east--where the marine detour makes long-distance freight railroading especially competitive. Rail Baltica is the northern end of such a corridor.
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* The first U.S. transcontinental was completed in (IIRC) 1869, with the laying of the Golden Spike at Promontory Point, Utah; the last one ca. 1920 with the opening of the Milwaukee Road's (abandoned 1980) Pacific Extension. Canada also has two major transcontinentals--the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific--both also built during this time, and Mexico a fairly complete transcontinental rail system as well.
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Old July 22nd, 2011, 04:59 PM   #16
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Quote:
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You need a China-India railway line first.

Plus, it'd be faster and cheaper to ship from the port in Burma, after the China-Burma line is completed. The earliest date mentioned is 2015.
Well right, but I figured that going through India (at whatever date) would then bring the Indian market directly into this "shipping lane", putting three/four of the world's largest economies in essentially direct contact.

hammersklavier you're also right, but considering that the Trans-Siberian railway goes through Siberia, i.e. essentially the middle of nowhere, and that the Chinese economy is and will likely continue to be centered in eastern, especially southeastern, China, you'd have to ship all those goods from that part of China up north. I'm not saying that the Trans-Siberian line isn't useful, but it probably won't be truly useful until Mongolia starts to develop its natural resources in...sometime in the future.

Incidentally, is there a thread here on the Chinese freight rail system?
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Old July 22nd, 2011, 05:13 PM   #17
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I dunno about that thread, but do keep in mind that the cities I cited would be the primary points of classification between the industrial areas in East China and the long-distance main to Xinjiang. That is, the route I'm proposing already has rail connections to the sea--and avoids Mongolia.

E: Here's China's general railways thread. Although agreed it may be a good idea to have a freight-specific thread for that country. And more pictures. I like train pictures.
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Old July 22nd, 2011, 06:02 PM   #18
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forget about the gauge

just build two terminals with automated cranes lifting the containers between two parallel trains, done in an hour
the bulk goods can be transferred with gravity

all thats needed is organizing the damn thing
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Old July 22nd, 2011, 06:12 PM   #19
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Even that ain't needed in these days - there are variable gauge trains which can run on both 1435mm & 1520mm tracks,given that gauge changers have been installed on tracks.

It's all about investments to rolling stock - if there's a company willing to buy such locomotives & freight cars,then the pan-Eurasian freight line could be operational even right now.
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Old July 22nd, 2011, 06:14 PM   #20
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The EURASIA | Railway Development thread covers rail links between China and Europe.
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