Moving grain in boxes: four facts about container train from Ukraine to Spain

2022/08/16 at 5:25 PM

European railway undertakings are moving further in arranging new supply chains to support Ukrainian export, primarily grain. Spanish, German and Polish companies are testing the first rail shipment of grain from Ukraine to Spain. Does this connection have a chance for the future?

Pilot container train for moving grain from Ukraine to Spain, source: the Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda of Spain (Mitma)

Last week, the Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda (Mitma) of Spain reported on launching a new project to demonstrate and review the possibility of moving grain from Ukraine to Spain by rail. The freight train, consisting of 25 40-foot containers, departed from Madrid towards the Polish city of Chełm, 25 kilometres from the Ukrainian border, which will become a transit hub for export goods. The first batch of Ukrainian corn, to be more precisely 600 tonnes, is expected to arrive in Spain in early September. What is known about this extraordinary supply chain?

One train, five countries

Despite its departure from Madrid towards Poland, the Ukraine-Spain container train, in fact, has other termini: Chełm in Poland and Barcelona in Spain. The grain will be moved from Ukraine to Chełm in covered wagons. In total, the new container train will travel at a distance of around 2,400 kilometres. Together with the Ukrainian section, it will run via five countries: Ukraine, Poland, Germany, France, Spain. Its westbound route is Chełm – Łódź – Duisburg – Barcelona while the eastbound route is Madrid – Ludwigshafen – Duisburg – Łódź – Chełm. From Barcelona, the goods will be moved to the final customers.

Partners in supply chain

Several European companies have joined their forces to arrange the Ukraine-Spain supply chain. The first one is Renfe Mercancías, the Spanish rail freight operator, which sent containers for Chełm and is responsible for traction from France to Spain. The second partner is ETC Terminal Przeładunkowy Chełm, a reloading facility in the east part of Chełm, where the goods are transshipped due to the break of gauge between Ukraine and Poland. The other two ones are DB Cargo Polska, which will haul wagons from Chełm to Łódź and Kombiverkehr, whose terminal in Łódź is also engaged in the supply chain.

40-foot containers to be used for delivering grain from Chełm to Barcelona, source: the Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda of Spain (Mitma)

Bags in boxes

To move grain from Poland to Spain, Renfe Mercancías decided to use ordinary containers but load them in an extraordinary way. The corn will be placed in large liner bags, which are dedicated to moving bulk. These bags will be loaded inside the boxes. Such a solution was chosen to simplify transhipment from covered wagons to containers. Of course, the corn can be loaded inside the boxes in Ukraine but it is currently impossible due to the lack of boxes, especially the 20-foot ones in this country.

Alternative to shipping?

Some European media described the new train connection as an alternative to the maritime connections that are currently used to export the Ukrainian grain. Meanwhile, this intermodal link can only support maritime services. Here are some numbers that will help you understand it. The first Chełm-Barcelona train will transport 600 tonnes of grain while one bulker can pick up more than 20,000 tonnes. According to the Ministry of Infrastructure of Ukraine, in a period from 1 to 16 August inclusive, 17 ships departed the three Ukrainian seaports for destinations in Europe, Asia and Africa via the so-called ‘humanitarian maritime corridor’. Together, they will deliver over 475,000 tonnes of grain.

Moreover, Mitma also indicates that the project was developed only for supporting the Ukrainian export but not for replacing maritime connections. “The pilot project seeks to analyse the capacities of land transport that can help maritime transport using railway mainlines in public-private coordination with the transport and raw material management industries in the European Union,” the Spanish governmental body specified.

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