Poland-Belarus border crossings. Photo: UTLC

The Poland-Belarus border crossing: what are the alternatives?

Five border crossings assure the movement of goods between Poland and Belarus. But are all these border crossings operative? And at which capacity? These questions and more were addressed at the New Silk Road Conference, held on 27 September in Tilburg, the Netherlands.

Even after the conference, the specialised speakers took time to address the questions that did not make it to the panel time. We gathered the most relevant questions asked and more importantly, the answers provided by the logistics providers, operators or others who have tried and tested the railway service between the continents.

Are all border crossings between Poland and Belarus operational and with enough capacity?

According to PKP Cargo, there are currently five crossing points between the countries. The most known is Malaszewicze – Brest. It is the most popular crossing, with enough capacity to handle the volumes, according to the Polish operator. Currently the border point can handle more than twenty trains per day, or 450 thousand TEUs per year. With the current volumes, it has more capacity than required and this is to be increased by four in 2022, explained the deputy director of the Bureau for Promotion and Investor Relations of PKP Cargo Andrzej Banucha.

A bit more to the north of the popular crossing are Siemianovska – Svisloch and Kuznitsa – Bruzhi. Both of these border points are operative, each with a capacity to handle four trains per day, or 60 thousand TEUs per year. UTLC has operated a container service between Poland and China via Bruzhi since August 2017. The border crossing via Svisloch is lesser known. However, RTSB said in a recent interview to expect volumes at this border point to grow in the near future.

Most northern crossing

The most northern border crossing on the map is the one via Kaliningrad. This border point is operative and with enough capacity, explained Vladimir Remizovich, key project manager at United Transport and Logistics Company – Eurasian Railway Alliance (UTLC ERA). The intermodal terminal is currently able to handle 16 trains per day, with a capacity of 450 thousand TEUs per year. Services are gradually being developed along this route, which also offers a short sea connection to several European countries.

PKP Cargo mentions a fifth border crossing: that of Czeremcha – Wyskolitowsk. At the moment this entry point does not seem to be used for Eurasian traffic. Little information is available about this border crossing.

What happens in case of an accident on the New Silk Road? Is there a contingency plan?

According to Rob Brekelmans of New Silk Way Logistics, the simple answer to this question is ‘no’. As there has not been a contingency plan in case of disturbances in the European railway network so far, there is no such plan on for rail between China and Europe, he explained.

“If something happens, there may be alternative routes, depending on where the accident takes place. But this will lead to delays”, said Erik Groot Wassink of Nunner Logistics. Similarly, when certain activities cause a delay at a terminal, there is not much that can be done to speed up the process, pointed out Brekelmans. “You just have to wait for your turn.”

How are damages handled? And do they occur regularly?

Damages do not occur regularly, but they do occur, the logistics providers say. All of them explain that they have had to deal with damages before. “It does not happen very often. But we advise customers to put an extra effort in the packaging of the cargo as it does move much more on the way than in sea freight”, said Groot Wassink.

“It does not happen often, but we have seen a few leaking containers, or fallout of reefer containers. In such a case, damages will have to be compensated, which is a complicated matter as forwarders do generally not assume liability other than the limited liability under freight forwarding conditions”, said Brekelmans.

“As New Silk Way Logistics, we accept liability for the entire journey: from Europe to Asia, by train, truck and other transport modes involved. In doing this, we basically act as an operator, but as we do not have the traction we act as an operator only on paper. We have developed a multimodal railway bill: a contract confirming this liability for the journey road-rail and in case of pre-on carriage by ocean or air.” Since the implementation of this contract, the company has not faced any damages yet.

Does the entry point via eastern European countries pose a threat to western European countries?

Slovakia and Hungary are increasingly gaining importance as entry points into Europe. Cargo is shipped via Ukraine, and enters Slovakia via Dobra or Hungary via Zahony. From here, the journey continues to Austria, Czech Republic or countries more south in Europe.

“This is a challenge for flow to western countries. China is obviously looking for alternative routes to Europe”, commented Roland Verbraak of GVT Logistics during the conference. But according to Brekelmans these are opportunities for the European logistics provider. “The more hubs come up, the more trains are operated between Europe and China. We can pick up cargo from eastern Europe now.” Groot Wassink agrees: “This benefits us, especially since we will have a new direct line from Amsterdam to Budapest. In this way, we can service more destinations.”

What happens when the Chinese subsidies cease to exist?

The volumes of traffic on the New Silk Road are greatly dependent on the Chinese subsidies, yet these subsidies are expected to be discontinued sometime after 2020. Although some have argued that rail services between Europe and China will not be feasible without the Chinese support, the logistics operators are a bit more positive.

“Only the strong connections will remain in place; the lines with sufficient volumes at the moment”, said Groot Wassink. “The New Silk Road will continue to exist as long as the is sufficient volume of freight and the eastbound-westbound balance is in place” added Brekelmans. “But I believe that this will be the case. I think the market mechanism will do its part and the balance will be there once the subsidies are pulled out.”

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Author: Majorie van Leijen

Majorie van Leijen is editor of RailFreight.com, online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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