Growing rail freight traffic between China and Russia causes congestion at border terminals

2024/02/20 at 2:24 PM

In 2023, rail transport between China and Russia moved 161 million tonnes of freight, 36% more than in 2022. Rail carriers are having more and more problems with the capacity of stations and transhipment terminals at the borders of these countries.

Photo: RZD

Russia and China are tightening economic cooperation, which translates into a growing volume of goods moved by rail between these countries. For Russia, trade with China allows it to fill the gap that appeared after the economic sanctions imposed on it by the US and the European Union. Last year, 43.9 million tonnes of freight were transported by rail through border crossings on the Sino-Russian border and through Mongolia (an increase of 23%), including 1 million containers (mainly with products from China). 38 million tonnes were exported from Russia to China, mainly coal, wood, ores, paper and fertilisers. Transport between China and Russia via Kazakhstan has also increased.

The boost in the volume of trade between China and Russia has become possible due to the expansion of infrastructure, among other things, owing to the opening of the Nizhnenleninskoye-Tongjiang bridge, through which 3 million tonnes were moved, or the modernisation of the railway station on the Russian-Mongolian border. The largest volume (7.5 million tonnes) was transported through the Grodekovo-Suifenhe border crossing.

New Silk Road is growing

Export to Russia is responsible for the increase in container transport within the Europe–China Express service. Last year, over 1.7 million TEUs were moved on the New Silk Road railway, 19% more than in 2012, while transport between China and the European Union set a large drop of 45-46%. It is Russia, which Chinese Railways treat as a European destination, that has generated an increase in container transport on the New Silk Road.

However, the growing transport of goods between China and Russia encounters problems in the form of inadequate infrastructure and a lack of sufficient rolling stock. This applies especially to container transport. In recent weeks, transhipment terminals where containers are transferred between Russian and standard gauge depots have become clogged. 150,000 empty containers to be shipped to China have been already accumulated at border crossings and ports. Transport of empty containers is not profitable for shippers and Russian export mainly consists of bulk goods. As a result, the price of an empty container in Russia dropped from over 4,000 to 600 US dollars, RZD-Partner informs.

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