Putting Lithuania on the international cargo railway map
Lithuania is poised to become an important Silk Road hub, and many milestones were reached in 2020. A direct line with Vilnius as the end destination, the connection with Kaunas to the European gauge network and more than tripling intermodal volumes to and from China are some of the highlights.
In total, 20,154 TEUs of intermodal traffic moved between Lithuania and China last year, an increase of 258,4 per cent compared to 2019. The year that was characterised by a global pandemic, saw steady growth in rail freight volumes. Where the year started with 386 containers to or from China, December counted 4,792 containers moving back and forth.
The majority of these volumes were on transit. The popularity of the transit route via the Russian enclave Kaliningrad played a role; Lithuania lies on the route between Kaliningrad and Belarus. But, as Tomas Jankauskas points out, Lithuania has all the means to play its own independent role. “We have the port of Klapeida, one of the leading ports in the Baltic Sea”, says the Sea & Rail Freight Group Leader at ACE Logistics.
A proof of this was the opening of a direct line between Xi’an in China and Vilnius, the capital of the country. After three months of operation, the service became a regular, weekly line in September last year. The first train departed from China on 18 September. The service was launched following market demand: the demand in the region was just great, Jankauskas explained.
“In 2013, we were trucking cargo from China via Warsaw to Vilnius. Two years ago, we asked ourselves, shouldn’t there be a train connection from China to Vilnius? The idea was still ambitious at the time, but in June 2020, Vilnius became a drop-off point for the DHL train to Germany. Three months later, the first regular direct line was a fact.”
The huge regional demand was not the only reason for the launch of the service, explained Zhang Xiao, deputy general manager of the Xi’an International Port Multimodal Transportation. According to him, Vilnius could function as a distribution hub. “The line could pave the way for distribution to the Nordic market”, he said earlier in RailFreight Live.
According to Kaspar Briškens from Rail Baltica, this is a common strategy of the Baltic states. “These states cannot just rely on demand from the region, they incorporate the demand from the Nordic countries, and it is in a perfect position to do so”, he said during an interview in the same RailFreight Live earlier. Also he is referring to the importance of the port of Klaipeda, the largest competitor of the port of Gdansk in the Baltic Sea.