From Japan to Europe: there is potential for a new route via Azerbaijan

Train by train, Azerbaijan is attracting new container volumes on its railway network. ADY Container, a dedicated subsidiary of Azerbaijan Railways, is making every effort in order to increase transit traffic running from Central Asia and especially from China to Turkey and Europe. For the future, ADY Container considers the opportunity for establishing rail freight connections to Japan and South Korea.

This spring is quite hot for the Azerbaijani logistics companies. They had just delivered containers from Uzbekistan to Turkey, when a new freight train departed from China to Azerbaijan. On 15 April, it started its journey at the Chinese city of Xi’an. After a 16-day travel, the train will arrive at Izmir in Turkey. This connection was organised by logistics companies from China, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey. ADY Container is among them.

“All corridors have their positive sides. Therefore, we are constantly trying to diversify our routes in order to increase the company’s flexibility to external factors and changes”, director of ADY Container Natig Jafarov says. The two mentioned trains are additional evidence of this diversification and flexibility. Both connections are focused on Central Asia but run via different countries and even cross the Caspian Sea by using the different ferry links: from Türkmenbaşy (Turkmenistan) to Alat or from Aktau (Kazakhstan) to Baku.

Key corridors

Currently, ADY Container transport intermodal freight on three key corridors: North-South (India – Iran – Azerbaijan – Russia), Middle (China – Azerbaijan – Turkey/Europe) and South – West (India – Iran – Azerbaijan – Georgia – Ukraine – Europe). According to the director of ADY Container, the most important route for the company in terms of existing freight traffic is the direction that starts in China and runs via Central Asia towards Turkey and Europe. It means that the Middle Corridor plays a key role in the company’s activities. “It is worth to note that in 2020, the Chinese government plans to depart 150 trains from Xi’an via the Middle Corridor. They will run through Azerbaijan”, Jafarov specifies.

Azerbaijan on the Middle Corridor, source: ADY Container

Potential routes

Besides the tested connection from Uzbekistan to Turkey via Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, ADY Container is regarding several other opportunities for the new services. Among them is the rail freight link from the Russian seaport of Nakhodka in the Far East to Turkey and Iran. In this case, Azerbaijan will be an important transit hub.

There are also other options that include the usage of the Baku – Tbilisi – Kars railway. “There is potential for attracting additional freight volumes to this line, and we are currently trying to establish business relations with freight carriers from the countries of the Far East in order to connect our region to the countries such as Japan and South Korea,” Jafarov notes. As for the latter two countries, Azerbaijan can arrange container trains to/from them by using two existing multimodal connections: from Japan/South Korea to Europe directly via Russia or via China, Kazakhstan and Russia. Which opportunity is preferrable to ADY Container, Natig Jafarov has not specified. However, the route via China and Kazakhstan will be shorter.

Via Turkey to Europe

The realisation of ADY’s future plans depends on two big infrastructure projects completed in recent years and related to Turkey. In October 2017 the Baku – Tbilisi – Kars railway was opened for the train traffic. Now, it is an important leg of the railway logistics solutions for the Azerbaijan company and its partners. “The Baku – Tbilisi – Kars railway from its opening to the present day is the most requested route for container transportation. Container traffic on this line is growing every year, as well as its popularity. In 2019 the container volume increased by 43 per cent compared to 2018”, the chairman of ADY Container says.

In addition to the Baku – Tbilisi – Kars line, there is another important infrastructure project. It is the Marmaray Tunnel beneath the Bosphorus Strait that entered service last year when the first container train from China to Europe crossed it. This connection was a milestone for ADY Container too. It participated in the project. After crossing the Caspian Sea by ferry, the containers from Xi’an continued their way to Prague via Turkey without an additional transhipment.

“The opening of the Marmaray Tunnel and its accessibility for the container trains provide us with the opportunity of a continuous railway connection to the European countries, particularly to Southeast Europe. In this regard, ADY Container began to actively cooperate with transport companies in Romania, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. In February 2020, we held very constructive negotiations with Rail Cargo Hungaria and Metrans, discussed the possibility of organising the new container trains to Europe via Turkey”, Jafarov sums up.

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Author: Mykola Zasiadko

Mykola Zasiadko is editor of online trade magazines RailTech.com and RailFreight.com.

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