• 2014 December 14

    Trans-Siberian Railway to have an alternative

    The authorities of Murmansk Oblast and Kamchatka Krai have decided to give the Trans-Siberian Railway a northern alternative by establishing a container line between the ports of Murmansk and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. It is estimated that transportation of containers on the Northern Sea Route would be cheaper with less transit time  than that on the Trans-Siberian route.

    And we will head for the North …

    As the first Vice-Governor of the Murmansk region Alexei Tukavin said the Murmansk region is considering the construction of a container terminal that would serve the Arctic container service between the ports of Murmansk and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. Speaking at the sidelines of the fourth International Forum "The Arctic: Present and Future" in St. Petersburg he told that within the project it is expected to utilize the refrigerated facilities at Murmansk fishing terminal, which could take the fish that comes from the Far East.

    The Murmansk region official specified that the cost of delivery on the route from Moscow, Murmansk and Vladivostok per TEU is estimated to be $ 2081 versus $ 4431 via the Trans-Siberian Railway, with shorter transit time by an average of five days.

    The haul distance on the route Moscow-Vladivostok, Petropavlovsk through the Trans-Siberian Railway will be 6,342 km (including 1,322 km by sea and 5020 km by railways) versus 5385 km (including 4325 km of sea lane and 1060 km of by railway) if shippers opt for the Northern Sea Route for the Moscow-Murmansk- Petropavlovsk route.

    On the route Shanghai-Petropavlovsk-Murmansk-Rotterdam the distance is 8079 km along the Northern Sea Route, and with the same destination points, but through the Suez Canal - 10521 km .

    It's true that the remote railway access points to Murmansk have some "bottlenecks" that curb the opportunities for trade flows growth. However, RZD plans to boost the capacity of the railway to Murmansk by 6 million tonnes per year by 2018.

    The rest of the port of Murmansk benefits are obvious: it is ice-free Arctic port, located in the city with developed infrastructure and having a relatively shorter transportation leg with the major consumption centers in the European part of Russia and Europe.

    According to the Murmansk region's vice-governor, some companies from China and Japan are interested to opt in the project, but it's unlikely any foreign shipowner would come, so the Arctic container line should be handed over to a domestic operator.

    For example, Alexei Tukavin says, the LASH carrier “Sevmorput” could make a test voyage in 2016 and “Atomflot" has accepted the proposal. Subsequently, it is supposed to deploy on the line ice-class container ships.

    Previously, an advisor to the Governor of Kamchatka Territory Nikolai Pegin has said this line could be serviced by three Arc 7 container carries, each cost estimated at $ 120 million.

    In this case, the port of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky could become a container hub in the east for the distribution of cargoes shipped through the Northern Sea Route. This requires a comprehensive overhaul and seismic strengthening of berths 2,000 m in length, the expansion of the port territory up to 53 hectares to build a new seaport building. If this project turns out to be successful, the port's throughput could rise to 8 million tonnes a year or even more. Nikolai Pegin identifies among the advantages of the port the presence of a convenient harbour with depths up to 26 meters, and its ability to provide calling ships with bunker fuel to ships and other supplies.

    Thus, the Northern Sea Route could become kind of an alternative to the Trans-Siberian Railway and the Suez Canal for container transportation. Moreover, it might relieve the Trans-Siberian Railway taking excessive freight flows, because the railway capacity will not be enough for all the projected loads (mainly coal), even after completion of the mainline's modernization investment project.

    At the same time we must not forget that cargo transportation on the NSR remains quite exotic due to severe climatic conditions. The head of Hydromet Alexander Frolov said at the Forum, that radical warming is not expected in the Arctic, but the process will be gradual and accompanied by hazards such as increased compression of ice, rising danger from migrating icebergs and loosening of shores.

    Earlier, an independent expert in freight transport Dmitry Filonenko has voiced the idea of the Arctic container line at the 3rd International Forum "The Arctic: Present and Future" in St. Petersburg. According to his proposal operators of this line could time-charter in the first phase vessels, to have its own containers fleet with the depot in South Korea based port of Busan, providing freight, agency services and the container fleet. Subsequently, Filonenko said, this line could become a shipowner, ordering newbuilds.

    Vitaly Chernov