FESCO and Russian Railways develop Japan-Europe multimodal service

Image: FESCO

A new cold chain train service linking Japan with Europe is spotted along the Trans-Siberian route. It is the product of a joint effort between Russian Railways, FESCO and the Japanese Ministry of Transport to develop a sea-rail cold chain link, which is currently in the testing phase.

The pilot shipments of temperature-sensitive products such as food, beverages and pharmaceuticals were carried in refrigerated containers from Fuji and Kobe in Japan to the Russian Far East port of Vladivostok using FESCO’s short sea freight service.

There, they transferred on trains that travelled across the Trans-Siberian railway to St. Petersburg and then on vessels again heading to German, Dutch and Belgian ports.

In January, FESCO launched short sea freight services linking Japan to the Russian Far East, creating a network that touches key Japanese ports such as Toyama, Hakata, Kobe and Yokohama, and facilitating the transit of Japanese goods destined for Europe to Russia.

St Petersburg and Far East ports

The Russian Far East ports, especially Vladivostok, are gaining increasing market attention lately, with many investments targeting them. On the other hand, St. Petersburg has been presented as a great alternative gateway to Europe, while many call it the “Kaliningrad of the future”.

In the case of Vladivostok, the potential for development lies in the ability to extend Eurasian connections to Japan and South Korea by short sea freight. At the same time, the port’s cargo can enter China directly from the east coast, providing an alternative to dangerous goods such as lithium batteries, which are banned by Chinese railways. In 2020, Russian Far East ports handled 0,6 per cent of Central European cargo, while in the first nine months of 2021, this share rose to 1,7 per cent. This figure is expected to continue to grow in the future as more and more people look to avoid the congested border crossings on the New Silk Road.

The connection to Europe from St Petersburg, on the one hand, avoids the Polish/Belarusian border, which is both overloaded and threatened by political conflict and eliminates the hassle of changing between gauges. Therefore, it is considered a more efficient alternative route. However, St Petersburg’s high latitude and the challenges posed by cold winter weather have limited its development to some extent.

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Author: Nikos Papatolios

Nikos Papatolios is the Chief Editor of RailFreight.com, the online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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