Ice Silk Road

How the Arctic Ocean can help Russian rail and bring it closer to China

Image: Shutterstock. © Karasev Viktor

On Friday 6 July, the first “Arctic Express” train departed from Russia’s Moscow region. Its destination: The northern port town of Arkhangelsk. The load, however, would continue on a much longer journey far beyond the Russian rail network. The Arctic Express does not only take goods up north, but is the first stage of a brand new freight route traversing the icy seas towards China.

Due to climate change the Arctic Ocean is warming up, and so are relations between Moscow and Beijing. As it is becoming easier for ships to travel the icy northern seas, Russia and China are using the opportunity to deepen their relationship. The two countries launched the Arctic Express route on Friday 6 July to send more goods across the sea and to improve their economic ties. The sea freight route presents political and economic opportunities for Russia, including for the betterment of its rail sector.

That same rail sector plays a crucial role in Russian-Chinese trade. As Moscow is growing its trade with China significantly, not least due to the invasion of Ukraine and the following breakdown of relations with the West, it needs infrastructure to make that trade possible. For Russian freight heading east, the railways are a popular mode of transportation. That is also where its problems start, and where the Arctic Express comes to its aid.

The Eastern Polygon

The popularity of rail keeps growing, which has led to constraints on the Russian Far East rail network, or otherwise known as the “Eastern Polygon”. Its capacity is limited, the network is congested, and it will take years (and enormous amounts of money) to grow its potential. For now, it just cannot handle more trains.

The Arctic Sea route, according to a representative of the Russian exports centre, may now provide a solution. “This initiative reorients a part of the freight flow to Arctic routes, which can relieve the Eastern Polygon”, a representative of the Russian Exports Centre points out in Russian media.

Icebreakers in the port of Arkhangelsk. Image: Shutterstock. © Dmitry-Arhangel 29.

New opportunities

A win for the Russian rail network, especially as the Arctic route does not actually bypass trains. It creates new opportunities some 4500 kilometres away, on the other side of Russia, where trains will be in business. The goods heading to China will be brought to sea ports via rail. The Arctic Express was coined for that reason by the Chinese company NewNew Shipping and Rosatom.

However, the Arctic Express still needs to gain some more popularity before it really heats up. The icy Arctic Ocean, similarly, may need to get warmer before the route can significantly relieve other parts of the Russian rail network. Arkhangelsk’s governor says that by 2030, the Arctic route could be used all year round. In 2024, 10 to 12 ships may head to China during the summer and autumn seasons.

The “Ice Silk Road”

The Arctic Express also provides Russia with other advantages. The route is shorter than the Suez route by 20 days, as it takes a maximum of only 25 days to reach China. “The Arctic Express will considerably speed up the delivery of freight from Europe to Asia and change global logistics routes”, according to the governor of Arkhangelsk. Russian media have even dubbed it the “Ice Silk Road”.

Lastly, much like the International North-South Transport Corridor, the route gives Russia another opportunity for trade through non-Western markets. In this case, the route does not traverse any other markets at all. The representative of the Russian Export Centre also highlights this: “The Arctic Express helps exporters of the Central and Northwestern regions of Russia to carry out direct deliveries of products without depending on transit through third countries”, she says.

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How the Arctic Ocean can help Russian rail and bring it closer to China | RailFreight.com
Ice Silk Road

How the Arctic Ocean can help Russian rail and bring it closer to China

Image: Shutterstock. © Karasev Viktor

On Friday 6 July, the first “Arctic Express” train departed from Russia’s Moscow region. Its destination: The northern port town of Arkhangelsk. The load, however, would continue on a much longer journey far beyond the Russian rail network. The Arctic Express does not only take goods up north, but is the first stage of a brand new freight route traversing the icy seas towards China.

Due to climate change the Arctic Ocean is warming up, and so are relations between Moscow and Beijing. As it is becoming easier for ships to travel the icy northern seas, Russia and China are using the opportunity to deepen their relationship. The two countries launched the Arctic Express route on Friday 6 July to send more goods across the sea and to improve their economic ties. The sea freight route presents political and economic opportunities for Russia, including for the betterment of its rail sector.

That same rail sector plays a crucial role in Russian-Chinese trade. As Moscow is growing its trade with China significantly, not least due to the invasion of Ukraine and the following breakdown of relations with the West, it needs infrastructure to make that trade possible. For Russian freight heading east, the railways are a popular mode of transportation. That is also where its problems start, and where the Arctic Express comes to its aid.

The Eastern Polygon

The popularity of rail keeps growing, which has led to constraints on the Russian Far East rail network, or otherwise known as the “Eastern Polygon”. Its capacity is limited, the network is congested, and it will take years (and enormous amounts of money) to grow its potential. For now, it just cannot handle more trains.

The Arctic Sea route, according to a representative of the Russian exports centre, may now provide a solution. “This initiative reorients a part of the freight flow to Arctic routes, which can relieve the Eastern Polygon”, a representative of the Russian Exports Centre points out in Russian media.

Icebreakers in the port of Arkhangelsk. Image: Shutterstock. © Dmitry-Arhangel 29.

New opportunities

A win for the Russian rail network, especially as the Arctic route does not actually bypass trains. It creates new opportunities some 4500 kilometres away, on the other side of Russia, where trains will be in business. The goods heading to China will be brought to sea ports via rail. The Arctic Express was coined for that reason by the Chinese company NewNew Shipping and Rosatom.

However, the Arctic Express still needs to gain some more popularity before it really heats up. The icy Arctic Ocean, similarly, may need to get warmer before the route can significantly relieve other parts of the Russian rail network. Arkhangelsk’s governor says that by 2030, the Arctic route could be used all year round. In 2024, 10 to 12 ships may head to China during the summer and autumn seasons.

The “Ice Silk Road”

The Arctic Express also provides Russia with other advantages. The route is shorter than the Suez route by 20 days, as it takes a maximum of only 25 days to reach China. “The Arctic Express will considerably speed up the delivery of freight from Europe to Asia and change global logistics routes”, according to the governor of Arkhangelsk. Russian media have even dubbed it the “Ice Silk Road”.

Lastly, much like the International North-South Transport Corridor, the route gives Russia another opportunity for trade through non-Western markets. In this case, the route does not traverse any other markets at all. The representative of the Russian Export Centre also highlights this: “The Arctic Express helps exporters of the Central and Northwestern regions of Russia to carry out direct deliveries of products without depending on transit through third countries”, she says.

Also read:

You just read one of our premium articles free of charge

Want full access? Take advantage of our exclusive offer

See the offer

Author: Dennis van der Laan

Add your comment

characters remaining.

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