Jing Shan: Rise of Eurasian Rail Freight Corridors

Jing Shan: Rise of Eurasian Rail Freight Corridors
Jing Shan

In an exclusive interview with Jing Shan, researcher at the Chair of Railway Operations at TU Dresden, we explore the impact of Eurasian rail corridors on international trade, resilience and supply chain dynamics.

Jing Shan has worked for the Chinese State Railways, the major railway groups such as FELB, InterRail and Rail Cargo Group. He is now a researcher at the Chair of Railway Operations at the Technical University of Dresden, where he is writing his doctoral thesis. The aim of the dissertation is to achieve the result in topics such as integrated scheduling for China-Europe freight trains, customised services to meet the different needs of the supply chain, allocation and optimisation of capacity and booking spaces or border crossing railway transport standard operating procedures.

RM: Could you provide an overview of your research focus on Eurasian freight corridors and their impact on international trade?

Jing Shan: The growing emphasis on developing resilient and sustainable global supply chain networks has resulted in a greater emphasis on international rail transport, as railways are regarded as the most cost-effective and environmentally friendly mode of transportation. Intercontinental rail transport, such as Eurasian rail transport, which connects China and Europe via various rail corridors (trans-Kazakhstan, trans-Mongolian, and trans-Siberian), has seen a significant increase in demand in the last decade. Because of this increase in demand, annual train services increased from 17 in 2011 to 16000 in 2022. The importance of international rail transport in facilitating the global supply chain prompted the creation of a new international rail corridor connecting India to Europe via the Middle East and the Mediterranean Sea.

RM: Given the challenges faced by supply chains in recent times, do you see Eurasian freight corridors playing a role in bolstering supply chain resilience?

Jing Shan: In the face of recent challenges, Eurasian freight trains have the potential to play a significant role in bolstering supply chain resilience. The Eurasian rail corridors, which connect China and Europe, have proven to be resilient in the face of various geopolitical and economic disruptions, including the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the COVID-19 pandemic, and Suez Canal congestion in 2021. This intercontinental rail link has provided more reliable and faster freight services than maritime shipping, making it an appealing option for supply chain managers who rely on just-in-time delivery and inventory minimization. It is important to note, however, that the Russia-Ukraine conflict has also resulted in changes in freight volumes and shipping patterns along the Silkroad corridors, indicating the need for adaptability and flexibility in supply chain management, and the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route is becoming more important. By providing an alternative and reliable mode of transport option for global supply chains, the Eurasian freight corridors can help to strengthen supply chain resilience. To fully realize the potential of these corridors, Eurasian freight trains must remain flexible and responsive to changing geopolitical and economic circumstances.

RM: Could you elaborate on the potential of the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route and its significance in the context of your research?

Jing Shan: The Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (TITR) connects Europe via the Black Sea after traversing China, Kazakhstan, the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey.  It has significant significance and potential in the fields of international transportation and trade, despite accounting for less than 10% of total cargo transported via the Russian-dominated Northern Route of Eurasian freight trains. To begin with, the TITR provides a viable and resilient alternative intercontinental rail transport route, facilitating the diversification of international trade and transportation, especially in the face of geopolitical disruptions and changes. Furthermore, the route aims to improve access to Europe through Central Asian countries, while also promoting regional economic integration and increasing trade between Asia and Europe. So far, Europe and China have shown a willingness to support it.  

RM: In today's diverse supply chain landscape, how can customised services offered through these corridors meet different supply chain needs?

Jing Shan: In recent years, many international companies have turned to Eurasian rail transport as an alternative to sea and air transportation between China and Europe, considering it a backup plan. However, due to the increasing diversity in the goods structure of the global supply chain, some high-value products require fast and reliable services, while others prioritize lower prices. The value density of goods in each container transported can vary greatly, with lower value density associated with higher transportation, storage, and handling costs and greater price sensitivity. More service differentiation among Eurasian rail services is needed to meet the varying transport service needs of the global supply chain. Long-distance international rail transport is well-suited for service differentiation, given the longer order placement period. However, the current Eurasian rail services are primarily classified based on the loaded and empty containers for the main transit, and discounts are offered based on the number of containers. To facilitate market segmentation and service differentiation, a range of rail supply chain strategies could be applied, including efficient, continuous replenishment, and responsive rail supply chain strategies. Additionally, new market opportunities could be created for forwarders and rail operators through the development of corresponding services.

RM: The efficient allocation and optimization of capacity are crucial. How does your research address these aspects in the context of railway transport along Eurasian corridors?

Jing Shan: Planning intercontinental rail networks can be a major challenge, especially when several border crossings are required on one itinerary. The predominant focus of existing academic research on railway planning has been centered on the regional and domestic scales and often fails to account for the global nature of the problem, neglecting unique restrictions and characteristics of international rail transport, such as multiple border crossings, which is not adequately covered, and the maximum length of trains also varies across different rail systems. In addition, understanding freight service demand heterogeneity has become crucial as variations of goods structure and the associated logistics services have grown. Customers expect low tariffs and high-quality service, mostly in terms of speed, flexibility, and reliability. Furthermore, international rail freight transport planning is inherently complex, involving multiple stakeholders and complicated processes and interfaces. Traditional transport planning, where each stakeholder plans and operates independently, it lacks stakeholder cooperation and optimizes each party's activities without addressing the system's impact . A notable lack of operative decision-making support tools and coordinated plans in the intermodal transport chain has been observed. The complex operations of rail transport have been, for a long time, limiting the implementation of state-of-the-art methodologies and techniques designed to offer efficient decision support systems as well. Merely improving isolated components of the railway system is insufficient to improve the rail service and efficiency of rail resources; it requires a comprehensive perspective to address issues. Therefore, developing a general tactical planning method for international rail freight transport is necessary, and this is the focus of my research.

Do you wish to receive similar articles to your email?

Not using RAILVIS Platform yet?

Rent a wagon, sell a locomotive, find a container, convert free capacity to profit. The RAILVIS Platform is the tool you need. It's faster, better organized, and more secure than email or phone calls.

Try RAILVIS Railway Marketplace
RAILVIS screenshot