‘Poti is a rail port able to channel Central Asian cargo to the world’
2022 was a highlight year for the port of Poti in Georgia. The location has been involved in the bulk of transport projects linking China and Central Asia to Europe via the Black Sea. According to Iain Rawlinson, CCO at APM Terminals in Poti, the port and the country have a huge role in developing regional markets and boosting rail.
Rawlinson has been engaged with the APM Terminals Poti since 2020. With over 20 years of experience in the maritime and logistics industry in locations worldwide, his perspective on the port and Georgia becomes all the more interesting, especially regarding rail.
Huge opportunity but low visibility
“I first became aware of Poti when APM Terminals bought the port in 2011. At the time, I was aware of it only as a port city in a beautiful country in a region with a great history as an East-West crossroads”, recalls Rawlinson.
“Upon my arrival, it quickly became apparent that the opportunities for Poti and Georgia are indeed driven by the port’s location at the Western end of the Central Asian/Caucasian rail network connecting Asia with Europe through the Middle Corridor”, he continues. This is the central focus of Rawlinson’s team, after all, promoting the idea of using Georgia and the Balck Sea as gateways for containerised cargo from Central Asia. “This is a trade which is in its infancy, but with a container penetration rate estimated at less than 5 per cent of the potential market, and a 250 billion USD economy, the opportunities for cargo growth over Poti are enormous”, he underlines.
Even two years after his arrival in Poti, and after getting acquainted with all the transport challenges included when doing business in the specific region, Rawlinson insists on his initial analysis. “There is a huge opportunity, ” he says, “but a fundamental challenge remains, and it is visibility”. As he explains, with several parties involved in transporting cargo through the region, and multiple modal changes, between rail and water transport, there is no single source of cargo transport information.
“This is a challenge recognised by all parties involved, and we now need a unified effort to find strong digital visibility solutions”, he stresses.
Middle Corridor the main regional challenge
Understandably, the rise of the Middle Corridor spiked the port’s relevance in Eurasian supply chains and boosted its rail profile and focus. Yet, as Rawlinson mentioned, the route is also Poti’s main challenge.
“The Middle Corridor faces an obvious logistical challenge mostly due to the route’s complexity”, he says. Everyone knows the route’s possibilities as an alternative to the Northern route or the traditional sea routes; however, “the corridor has, for instance, failed to take advantage of opportunities to serve southern Europe and north Africa”, notes Rawlinson.
Moreover, from his viewpoint, the Middle Corridor’s actual opportunities lie with the development of Central Asian markets, as he believes that services delivering goods in and out of this region have long-term sustainable potential beyond the current geopolitical reality. “Multimodal services connecting the region with countries to the west will have long-term attractiveness to the market”, he insists.
Yet, the route is still far from serving all those objectives and needs explicit measures to improve. “If I could ask for three immediate measures to improve the situation, they would be improving the transfer of trains between parties, better visibility of trains across all areas of the Middle Corridor, and opening up the market to new international service providers and operators”, adds Rawlinson.
Rail oriented port
As for rail and the port of Poti, Rawlinson is clear: “Poti was initially designed as a rail port. With 17 kilometres of rail lines within the port area, it is well equipped to handle rail-sea operations. We continue to invest in rail infrastructure to improve our capabilities to support the most environmentally benign mode of mass land transportation to the overall benefit of the region”.
Nevertheless, no matter how much Poti invests in railway infrastructure and services, it still needs immediate and collective measures to allow it to embrace rail-sea operations even more. Rawlinson thinks Poti will only grow if the whole region develops rail-wise. Given the port’s position on the western leg of the Middle Corridor, growth will follow if some things improve collectively.
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