Germany’s Duisburg Port had challenges last year due to Ukrainian and Russian exports adversely affecting cargo volumes at this inland port – along with infrastructure problems such as roads and bridges that were in bad need of repair, said Erich Staake, CEO of Duisburger Hafen AG.
But Duisburg holds big potential as a key connector between Europe and Asia. That’s because the Port of Duisburg, which operates as the world’s largest inland container port, is a key connecting point for China’s logistics strategy known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that calls for developing what is deemed “the New Silk Road.”
The Silk Road (or Eurasia land bridge) and BRI focuses on ways to link China with the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea through Central Asia and West Asia. BRI plans to connect 4.4 billion people across continents in more than 60 economies with a gross economic volume of about US$22 trillion.
“Four hundred trains per week connect the port of Duisburg – the most important hub in the European hinterland – with more than 80 direct destinations in Europe and Asia,” states Staake. “Through the broad range of logistics services at the site, Duisburg thus offers an ideal starting point for dispatching rail transports directly on site and ensuring efficient pre- and post-transport.”
Already, rail transport between Duisburg and China is establishing itself as a complementary transport offering. The first direct freight train between Chongqing and Duisburg (Yuxinou Railway) occurred in the summer of 2011.
The Yuxinou Railway offers an enhanced rail connection between Duisburg and China and covers a broad swathe of the Eurasian region. The Yuxinou Railway is also the first direct freight train between Chongqing, China and Duisburg. Not only does it represent a strong commitment between China and the Port of Duisburg to develop the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), in which Duisburg is located, into a crucial industrial and logistics hub for Eurasian trade, Duisburg port officials stress that, given rail is less expensive than air freight and more than twice as fast as ocean transport, intercontinental rail offers an attractive alternative for very long routes.
“With daily train connections to Chinese industrial and logistics locations, the Port of Duisburg today maintains excellent connections to the most important growth market in Asia,“ says Staake.
A competitive alternative to the existing Eurasian sea lanes, the 11,000-kilometre Yuxinou Railway has made it possible to ship goods from China by rail to continental Europe in only 11-20 days, compared to 30-45 days by sea transport. More frequent direct freight trains via the Eurasia land bridge to a multitude of destinations in China including Wuhan (Hanxinou Railway), Chengdu (Rongxinou Railway), Chongqing (Yuxinou Railway) and Zhengzhou (Zhengxinou Railway) have made railway a more convenient and flexible option for Europe-bound cargo.
Duisburg Port offers links to China via two routes: trans-Siberian via Russia to northeastern China, and the New Silk Road via Kazakhstan to central China. According to port officials, the transcontinental route has become even more valuable since automobile manufacturers began using it to export auto parts and premium vehicles to China in 2014. They add that, for many years, Duisburg has been the fastest-growing container location in Europe.
“It’s only logical that we have continuously expanded our container-handling capacity, which now stands at 5 million TEUs,” officials state.
The inland port is especially critical given the new arrival of 81 Chinese enterprises in 2015 that have located in NRW. Nearly 900 Chinese companies, including a number of leading Chinese companies involved in solar energy and lighting technology, are located there. Water and land transportation, as well as a high concentration of complementing industries, has resulted in more than two-thirds of these Chinese enterprises being involved in the trade and sale of products from mechanical engineering and industrial plant sectors, household appliances, to the automotive industry, healthcare industry and metallurgy, and others.
NRW is already a magnet for some 18,000 international companies such as 3M, BP, Ericsson, Ford, LG Electronics, QVC, Toyota, Vodafone and Chinese enterprises such as Sany (construction machinery) and Huawei (ICT).
To push its own economic development further ahead, China is currently investing massively in the construction of new rail connections in the western parts of the country. This also includes the expansion of the Silk Road’s southern route to Europe via Iran, Turkey and the Balkans. According to China’s President Xi Jinping, the objective must be to position the NRW as the central starting point for these trade routes.
“In this respect, the southern route via the Balkans and Turkey is expected to gain in importance,” says Staake. “We must prepare ourselves for this in Europe.”
In November, the Turkish logistics company Arkas Holding S.A. and Duisport announced the creation of a new joint venture at Logitrans with an objective to jointly develop multimodal logistics parks and intermodal services in Turkey. One of the first projects under the joint venture is the development and operation of a more-than-200,000-square-metre large multimodal logistics area near Istanbul in the vicinity of the Gebze industrial district.
Plans calls for commencing construction of a bimodal terminal this year.
As such an important logistics location in Europe, Duisburg also plays a special role under the BRI, thanks largely to its host of Europe’s leading consolidation hub of containerized cargo. Duisburg offers nine container terminals and 2 million square metres of covered storage space. More than 360 rail connections per week to 80 national and international destinations are offered via intermodal transport.
In 2015, Duisburg registered a record 3.6 million TEUs, representing a 6% year-on-year growth of containers. In 2014, the inland port saw a 13% increase to 3.4 million TEUs, despite a stagnating European logistics market.
By Karen E. Thuermer
Correspondent | Washington