Transit decline

Port of Odesa opening crashes Ukraine – Romania rail freight

Image: Shutterstock. © Aikilu

A major success for Ukraine in its efforts to beat back the Russian invasion has some serious implications for rail freight in Romania and Moldova. Ukraine managed to scare off the Russian Black Sea navy and make the port of Odesa once again operational. The drawback is that it has made rail freight services to Romania’s Constanta port obsolete.

Moldovan officials, alongside Romanian freight operators, complain that demand for rail freight services from Ukraine into Romania has hit a low. “During the first four or five months of the year, traffic from Ukraine to the Constanta port decreased by 44 per cent compared to the same period last year,” a rail freight company manager is quoted as saying in Romanian media.

“The traffic that was there in the year the war broke out, I don’t think there will be any more”, they say. “In February 2022 the conflict broke out, in March – April there was traffic that we could not take on. Now it is zero compared to then. There used to be one train a day; now there are whole months when nothing is being transported”, he says. In the early months of the war, Ukrainian grain had to be diverted to Romania’s Constanta port as Odesa’s port was no longer safe.

Freight trains in the port of Constanta. Image: Shutterstock. © EDCStudio.

Port of Odesa reopening

The rail freight crash follows a rather positive development for neighbouring Ukraine. After Russia pulled out of the grain deal, which established a corridor for ships carrying grain on the Black Sea, Ukraine had to create a safe route by force. It did so successfully, and ships are docking and leaving the Odesa port once again.

Romania invested billions of euros in rail infrastructure to Ukraine, according to Romanian media. That infrastructure may now become increasingly irrelevant. Similarly, Moldova has lost an important source of revenue now that Odesa’s port is open again.

The Moldovan agriculture minister, Vladimir Bolea, comments: “From the moment when the port of Odesa and their other ports were opened, transit through the Republic of Moldova was reduced to a minimum. I mean, it was a source of income for the Moldovan Railways, quite important, and, unfortunately, it has been completely reduced.” Besides grain, a metallurgical plant also used the route through Moldova, representing 20 per cent of the country’s revenues from Ukrainian transit.

Romania seeks other collaborations

Romania is looking elsewhere for rail freight successes. Its state rail freight operator, CFR Marfa, signed a memorandum with the Kazakh KTZ Express on developing transport services along the Middle Corridor. Romania hopes to turn the Constanta port into a major logistics hub for continental Asia-Europe freight.

Similarly, the country signed a memorandum with Saudi Arabia on logistics cooperation. The focus is on Romanian intermodal transport and harmonising regulations to ease international trade.

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Author: Dennis van der Laan

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