This is where 2020 has got Lithuania on the international railway map
Lithuania is poised to become an important Silk Road hub, and many milestones were reached in 2020. A direct line with Vilnius as the end destination, the connection with Kaunas to the European gauge network and more than tripling intermodal volumes to and from China are some of the highlights.
In total, 20,154 TEUs of intermodal traffic moved between Lithuania and China last year, an increase of 258,4 per cent compared to 2019. The year that was characterised by a global pandemic, saw steady growth in rail freight volumes. Where the year started with 386 containers to or from China, December counted 4,792 containers moving back and forth.
The majority of these volumes were on transit. The popularity of the transit route via the Russian enclave Kaliningrad played a role; Lithuania lies on the route between Kaliningrad and Belarus. But, as Tomas Jankauskas points out, Lithuania has all the means to play its own independent role. “We have the port of Klapeida, one of the leading ports in the Baltic Sea”, says the Sea & Rail Freight Group Leader at ACE Logistics.
A proof of this was the opening of a direct line between Xi’an in China and Vilnius, the capital of the country. After three months of operation, the service became a regular, weekly line in September last year. The first train departed from China on 18 September. The service was launched following market demand: the demand in the region was just great, Jankauskas explained.
“In 2013, we were trucking cargo from China via Warsaw to Vilnius. Two years ago, we asked ourselves, shouldn’t there be a train connection from China to Vilnius? The idea was still ambitious at the time, but in June 2020, Vilnius became a drop-off point for the DHL train to Germany. Three months later, the first regular direct line was a fact.”
The huge regional demand was not the only reason for the launch of the service, explained Zhang Xiao, deputy general manager of the Xi’an International Port Multimodal Transportation. According to him, Vilnius could function as a distribution hub. “The line could pave the way for distribution to the Nordic market”, he said earlier in RailFreight Live.
According to Kaspar Briškens from Rail Baltica, this is a common strategy of the Baltic states. “These states cannot just rely on demand from the region, they incorporate the demand from the Nordic countries, and it is in a perfect position to do so”, he said during an interview in the same RailFreight Live earlier. Also he is referring to the importance of the port of Klaipeda, the largest competitor of the port of Gdansk in the Baltic Sea.
Vilnius is not the only Lithuanian city to gain the attention of the international community. The city of Kaunas in Lithuania is poised to become an important European logistics hub, due to its position on the future Rail Baltica, connecting Poland, the Baltic states and Finland. The city reached an important milestone with the completion of the Kaunas Intermodal Terminal (KIT) in October last year. This terminal connects the Baltics and Russia to the European rail network, as it integrates the different gauge withs.
The city is the easternmost point where 1520 mm gauge and European standard gauge networks meet. The majority of freight trains travelling down the Rail Baltica line will be passing through this node. The cargo line will be seeing 62 trains per day running at a speed of 120 km/h in 2036. According to the Rail Baltica Global Project Cost-Benefit Analysis conducted by E&Y, the base case scenario will see 1.8 million tonnes pass between Kaunas and the Lithuanian-Polish border in 2025, the number increasing up to 14.9 million tonnes in 2035.
Last but not least, there is the terminal of Šeštokai, also providing dual gauge and strategically located near the Polish border. The terminal is must smaller in size; it has an annual capacity of 25,000 TEUs, whereas the terminals of Kaunas and Vilnius have an annual capacity of 102,000 TEUs each, presents Robert Komar from LTG Cargo during the European Silk Road Summit.
Komar also points out the great ambitions of the company, which is the national rail freight operator. “Our aim is to reach the volumes of 70 million tonnes per year”, he points out during the summit, claryfing that the current annual volume is 55,4 million tonnes. With the international ambitions and the port of Klapeida as its gateway, these ambitions are not too optimistic.