Electric locomotives at, Odessa station, Ukraine. PPhoto: Wikimedia Commoms

HHLA lands in Ukraine to serve hinterland from port of Odessa

Electric locomotives at, Odessa station, Ukraine. PPhoto: Wikimedia Commoms

Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG (HHLA) has established its own intermodal company in Ukraine. The new Ukrainian Intermodal Company (UIC) offers container transport by rail between the Port of Odessa and important economic centres in the country.

In the Port of Odessa, HHLA operates the largest container handling facility in Ukraine: the Container Terminal Odessa (CTO). The CTO has its own rail terminal, which is currently being expanded and where the container block trains are formed. All inland activities are carried out in cooperation with private rail terminals.

Rail versus road

Ukrainian ports have developed very dynamically in recent years. Last year, the throughput volume at the Black Sea port of Odessa increased by 8.5 per cent to almost 650,000 TEUs. However, at 22 per cent, rail only accounts for a small share of the container traffic between the port and the Ukrainian hinterland. By comparison, over 46 per cent of sea containers in Hamburg reach or leave the port in the environmentally friendly manner by rail.

The rail system offers several advantages: the existing broad-gauge network connects the largest inland economic centres with the Ukrainian coast. In comparison, large parts of the road network are in need of modernisation. Furthermore, due to the large distances in Ukraine – the Eastern European country is almost twice the size of Germany – rail transport is best suitable to be a sustainable way to transport goods.

Domestic rail

Up until now, container transport by rail in Ukraine was almost exclusively carried out using individual cars or groups of wagons. The newly established UIC bundles the individual loading to container block trains, thereby increasing the efficiency and reliability of transports.

Since early October 2020, UIC offers weekly block train connections between Odessa and Ternopil in the Lviv economic region in Western Ukraine. In November, a weekly service to the industrial centre of Kharkiv, the second largest city in the Ukraine, will start operations. It is also planned to establish a weekly container train connection between Odessa and Zaporizhia in the east of the Ukraine.

Importance for China

Ukraine has also grown in importance as a transit country. The country has plenty of capacity for more volumes. This is in contrast to the route via Belarus, which is the main route between Europe and China and due to this, often congested. Ukraine does not have this issue, and it could therefore provide an alternative route into Europe, explains Timofey Murakhovskyy, COO of Bonus Trans, a Ukrainian company. Murakhovskyy will be speaking about the role of Ukraine at the European Silk Road Summit 2020.

“Ukraine has an enormous growth potential for rail transportation at the moment. Transit traffic increases by more than 20 per cent per year, and transit traffic through the ports is also on the rise. This is mostly traffic coming from China.”

HHLA’s Metrans

The transit potential has been well noted by Metrans, an HHLA subsidiary. With its strong focus on Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), it looks at Ukraine as a gateway to countries as Slovakia and Hungary, but also Poland. It has been running a regular route from Xi’an via Ukraine to Slovakia since August this year. At the European Silk Road Summit, Martin Koubek from Metrans will elaborate on the potential of the country for rail.

“We have tested several services since 2018, and we now have a weekly service. We focus on westbound traffic now, because eastbound traffic proved to have some challenges. There are still certain sanctions in place for the transport of certain goods from Europe. On the contrary, Ukraine does not mind the import of goods from China.”


The facilities in Ukraine are up to standards, the parties involved acknowledge. “With an efficient train system based on customer-friendly services, transparent prices, simple booking processes and reliable timetables, we want to tap the considerable potential of the Ukrainian intermodal market,” says Philip Sweens, Managing Director of HHLA International.

Together with local partners HHLA intends to remove obstacles to rail transport in Ukraine, and to establish and market a reliable range of services. It is working in cooperation with private rail terminals. Additional services such as stuffing and stripping of containers, hub-to-door delivery to the final destination by truck or customs clearance are also available, the company informed.

European Silk Road Summit 2020

Do you want to hear more about the role of Ukraine on the New Silk Road? It is a central topic at the European Silk Road Summit 2020. In a short documentary, several experts comment on the various options of train traffic to and through Ukraine. Murakhovskyy and Koubek are among them. Registration is still open and can be done here.

Author: Majorie van Leijen

Majorie van Leijen is the editor-in-chief of RailFreight.com, the online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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