Together with ten other partners, the Flemish Institute for Logistics has carried out a two-year study of the technical and operational possibilities for detailed monitoring of temperature-controlled goods such as drugs, chemicals, foodstuffs, carried over long distances by rail.
The positive results demonstrate that rail can be a sustainable transport alternative for shippers, compared with the riskier road transport, slower maritime connections and expensive airfreight.
The project focused on the “New Silk Road” that crosses the Eurasian landmass from one side to the other. The initial impetus for the project was given by the trans-continental rail freight connection between Antwerp and Chongqing (China), set up at the end of 2011 by the Province of Antwerp Development Corporation, the Belgian Customs authorities and Antwerp Port Authority.
The conclusion was that there is sufficient demand for transport from East to West, but not in reverse, even though there is demand from the Flemish market for rail transport of such goods to the Far East. A combination of both could offer a good balance for this freight train.
During the project, the Institute drew up a list of the technical possibilities, performed risk analyses and carried out a test run in collaboration with Pfizer. A trial consignment was sent from Antwerp to Kazakhstan with a revolutionary type of container: a diesel-electric unit with a fuel tank capacity of 800 litres, enough for the entire journey.
A built-in track-and-trace unit enabled the consignment to be followed at all times, with the security status, location, condition of the goods and consumption by the refrigeration unit all being monitored through a web application. The results were positive.
According to the participants of the project, interest is being shown by shippers, while the national rail operators along the route (Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan and China) also see opportunities: they intend to invest jointly in new containers and plan to set up an organisation to market the route.
An additional positive effect is the opening of a trade office under the name of “Chongqing Government Logistics Council Belgium Office” to explore the potential of the European shippers market from Antwerp.