PKP Cargo container train hauled by Siemens Vectron locomotive

Connecting two seas: the key advantages of the Gdańsk – Odesa multimodal corridor

2021/05/17 at 3:45 PM

Poland and Ukraine launched a new multimodal corridor between the Baltic and the Black Sea. What benefits does it provide for both countries? Are there new opportunities for the third countries?

“Ukraine is a key place for us,” Łukasz Strzelecki, director of the department for supporting trade policy at PKP Cargo Connect, said during the webinar “New transport opportunities between Poland and Ukraine. The Gdańsk – Odesa corridor”. This phrase is acceptable for many other Polish companies as they have their specific interest in Ukraine. To improve connectivity between the two states, a new multimodal corridor between the port cities of Gdańsk and Odesa was launched earlier this year. Its advantages and opportunities for the Polish business was a key topic to be discussed at the mentioned event, which was organised by the Polish Investment & Trade Agency (PAIH) on Friday, 14 May.

On the way to a strong hub

Karol Kubica, director of the PAIH Foreign Trade Office in Kyiv, noted that rail transport played a key role in the exchange of goods between two countries. This is mainly caused by the predominance of iron ore. However, containers are gaining popularity. 37 container trains ran from Ukraine to Poland in 2020. This year has already shown a positive trend with 12 trains in the first two months. The Gdańsk – Odesa corridor will obviously lead to increasing this traffic.

PKP Cargo container train hauled by Siemens Vectron locomotive
PKP Cargo’s container train, source: PKP Cargo

Meanwhile, both countries could also benefit from the new corridor in transporting goods to the third countries. “There is a close cooperation between the Ukrainian and Polish enterprises to jointly become a strong transport and logistics hub between Europe, the states of the European Union and Asia, particularly China and Turkey,” Karol Kubica noted. According to him, the multimodal corridor will allow the Ukrainian companies to get additional opportunities for transporting goods to the European Union, especially to Scandinavia via the Port of Gdansk. The Polish enterprises in turn will be able to deliver their freight to Turkey and other states in the Black Sea region as well as to Central Asia and China. Regarding this issue, Łukasz Strzelecki from PKP Cargo Connect also added that the corridor should be combined with the New Silk Road to maximise benefits for all the parties concerned and especially for Ukraine.

Connecting hinterland

Michał Wójcik, manager for international cooperation at the Port of Gdańsk Authority, focused in his presentation on other aspects of the multimodal route. “The idea of the corridor is related not only to the direct connections between Gdańsk and Odesa but the connections in a wider sense,” he said. This means an opportunity for transit traffic from the Polish port to Central Asia and China as well as the development of connectivity with the western parts of Ukraine, which are regarded by the port authority as the hinterland.

Map of the Gdańsk – Odesa multimodal corridor, source: PKP LHS

Currently, Ukraine’s share in the port freight traffic is relatively low. In 2018, there were transported 10,800 TEU containers from the Port of Gdańsk to Ukraine and 16,700 TEU in 2019. The container traffic from Ukraine to the Port of Gdańsk is much lower: 819 TEU in 2018 and 1,900 TEU in 2019. These figures demonstrate that the volumes are growing year by year and there is a potential for the future growth.

Cross-border modal shift

Poland is the second-largest partner for Ukraine in terms of import. However, the further increase of the freight volumes could be slowed down due to several obstacles. Every year the Polish and Ukrainian freight forwarders are facing with the restricted number of bilateral permissions. From time to time, both countries are negotiating over issuing additional permissions. This does not eliminate the problem.

Ukrferry’s Greifswald ro-ro vessel, source: Ukrferry

“The governments of Ukraine and Poland should find another solution and container trains could be one of them,” Vladimir Huz, associated partner at Global Ocean Link, said. Since February 2020, his company in a partnership with PCC Intermodal has been running the intermodal connections between Ukraine and the Netherlands via Poland. As of today, Global Ocean Link (GOL) offers a well-developed network of container trains from several locations in Ukraine to the intermodal hubs and ports in Poland, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium.

Alternative route for trucks

Shifting freight from road to rail is important not only for the bilateral trade between Poland and Ukraine but between Poland and Turkey too. The annual trade between the latter two countries is valued at more than 6.5 million euro (2019). As Vladimir Cherniievskyi, commercial director of Ukrferry, explained, the vast majority of this traffic is provided mainly by heavy goods vehicles. There are 45,000 – 50,000 trucks running between Poland and Turkey. The similar traffic between Turkey and Germany is more intensive: 200,000 trucks per year. As of today, the heavy goods vehicles are transported from Turkey to the Port of Trieste in Italy by ferries and then by rail to Germany or other destinations in Europe.

“Why not offer an alternative route?” Vladimir Cherniievskyi asked rhetorically. Under the alternative, the top manager of Ukrferry meant the delivery of goods via the Port of Chornomork in Ukraine and then by rail to Poland. “There could be some kind of a distribution centre in Poland to transport freight throughout the country as well as towards Central and Northern Europe. To my opinion, it is quite real,” Vladimir Cherniievskyi specified.

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