Saturday, September 28, 2013

Rail Freight Networks Intend to Speed Eurasian Cargo Carriage

Opening of North Korean Track Part of Russian Railway's Overall Strategy
Shipping News Feature

RUSSIA – NORTH KOREA – AUSTRIA – Two years ago we pointed out that, despite the country’s status as an international pariah, commerce often conquers all, and the chance of shipping freight to and from North Korea meant both Russia and China were willing to partake in infrastructure development to see import and export cargo levels increase. Now, with the official opening on 22 September at a ceremony at the port of Rajin, a railway line between Khasan, Russia and Rajin, North Korea will allow an increase in trade between the two countries and development of a new intermodal terminal is under way.

The official opening followed the line's reconstruction and an investment of more than 9 billion roubles. As so often in the region, multiple gauges had to be accommodated and part of the project meant 54 kilometres of combined narrow and broad gauge tracks with widths of 1435 and 1520 millimetres had to be reconstructed whilst 18 bridges, 12 pipe-culverts and 3 tunnels with a total length of 4.5 kilometres were restored. In addition, modern signalling, centralisation and locking equipment was installed.

The ceremony was attended by Vladimir Yakunin, President of Russian Railways (RZD); Jeong Gil Su, North Korea's Minister of Railways; Alexei Tsydenov, Deputy Minister of Transport of the Russian Federation; Alexander Timonin, Ambassador and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation to North Korea, and other officials. Speaking at the opening ceremony, Yakunin said:

"In 2001, Russian President Vladimir Putin and the leader of North Korea Kim Jong-il agreed to develop cooperation on the reconstruction of the Khasan – Rajin railway line and the creation of a port terminal. The two leaders saw the project as part of the reconstruction of the entire Trans-Korean Railway Line. This will be the shortest transport route from Asia to Europe and back."

According to Yakunin, the Khasan – Rajin project has opened up new prospects for multilateral international cooperation which are important not only for the economic and trade zones of both North Korea's Rason and Russia's Far East region, but also for the two countries as a whole. Interestingly China has a contract until 2018 to manage part of the North Korean port’s infrastructure. Jeong Gil Su added:

"This railway section will become a transport route for friendship, promoting the joint economic and transport development of our two countries and the well-being of our people, and will be a reliable international transport hub linking Asia and Europe."

Practical implementation of the project began in 2008, when RZD and North Korea's Ministry of Railways signed a cooperation agreement. In October of that year, Tumangan station saw the ceremonial laying of the first link of the rails and sleepers that marked the beginning of the reconstruction of the Khasan – Rajin railway section.

In 2009, a joint venture, RasonKonTrans, was set up by Russian Railways Trading House, a subsidiary of RZD, and the port of Rajin, in order to implement the project. RasonKonTrans has in turn concluded a 49-year leasing arrangement of the railway line between Tumen – Rajin with the Donghae company of North Korea's Ministry of Railways. The work was financed from RasonKonTrans' share capital, as well as by funds the joint venture was able to borrow based on the project's business plan. More than 5.5 billion roubles had been invested in the reconstruction of the Khasan – Rajin railway line and 3.5 billion roubles in the port terminal.

The final construction phase to create a universal intermodal exchange terminal at the port of Rajin has now begun, including a range of measures ranging from dredging, building a new quay wall and equipping storage yards, through the construction of industrial and office buildings and facilities to laying railway lines within the terminal itself. Yakunin continued:

"The port is designed to handle transhipment volumes of 4 million tonnes of cargo, but that is not the limit. We are confident that the cargo base will expand and that containers will be shipped through the port. The construction of the port terminal is almost complete, and we are already seeing interest from international customers and partners.”

Officials from both countries say they are working together to finalise the timetable and the joint regulations which will govern the movement of trains on this section. To ensure the interoperability of the new line with both North Korea's railway network and the Russian rail network, there are plans to create a single control centre with the participation of experts from the RasonKonTrans joint venture and the Donghae transport company of North Korea's Ministry of Railways.

Meanwhile RZD has been cooperating with the other three partners in the Breitspur Planungsgesellschaft mbh cooperative to develop a dedicated 430km freight line from Košice in Slovakia to Vienna. The intention of the four, Russia, Slovakia, Austria and Ukraine, is to eventually construct a new direct route from Vienna to Russia's Pacific coast, which will mean a Eurasian corridor offering much more competitive transit capability along the route.

Photo: Port of Rajin, North Korea.