Rail looks to boost market share

Rail attracts just 6% of the $600 billion worth of trade between the Asia-Pacific region and Europe. Train chiefs claim they can almost double that proportion by cutting the number of customs checks at each border.

Rail guages across the world can vary from state to state, even city to city. The Russian Empire created a single gauge of about 1.5 meters, from Poland and Finland to the borders of Turkey, Iran and China. But the new states have cut that advantage through long and unpredictable customs controls, according to Askar Mamin, President of Kazakhstan Railways.

“Border checks can take hours. That badly affects the attractiveness of rail transport.”

Train bosses in the network have met in Kazakh capital Astana to slash the number of checks with Boris Lapidus, Senior Vice President of Russian Railways, looking to expand rail’s share of the freight market.

“We're creating unified technical standards and control systems. That can almost double rail's share of Asia-Pacific to Europe trade to 10% by 2020.”

The potential is there – rail freight accounts for almost nine-tenths of cargo turnover within Russia. And Berlin to Shanghai is 50% nearer by rail than sea.

Geographically Astana is at the crossroads of Eurasia. From Chinese-made toys for Europe's Christmas trees to this train taking low-cost workers north to Moscow, rail bosses claim they can make it a serious alternative to flights and shipping.