As the transit traffic through the New Silk Road (NSR) has grown, and is likely to keep expanding, the role of the route’s western and eastern flanks has also been solidifying.

Kazakhstan, the largest Central Asian country, with its borders with China and Russia extending for thousands of miles, is a giant land bridge between Europe and Asia.

By contrast, Hungary is a mid-size nation in the very heart of Europe, thus a natural transport and logistics hub for both its first-tier (Austria, Slovenia and Croatia) and second-tier (Germany, Switzerland and Italy) neighbours.

Unsurprisingly, their transport and logistics companies are determined to make the most of their geographical location. And they seem to be prepared to combine efforts to tap their respective courtiers’ immense transit potential.

Kazakhstan’s Eurotransit and Hungary’s East-West Intermodal Logistics Service (EWILS) have signed a strategic cooperation agreement aimed at expanding transcontinental rail freight volumes.

Set up in 2012, Eurotransit has evolved into the leading Kazakh terminal operator, running one rail and four motor facilities along the Kazakh-Chinese border. Launched in 2016 and featuring a 5,120 teu storage yard, its Altynkol rail container terminal handled 131,400 teu last year, up 41% on 2019.

Despite the global pandemic,China-Europe-China container traffic via Kazakhstan increased last year by 65% on 2019, to 517,500 teu, accounting for 88% of all cargo transiting via Kazakhstan.

And the figures are about to grow. Eurotransit this year started construction of a new intermodal rail terminal at Dostyk, Kazakhstan’s principal transborder nodal point with China. The new facility will, according to director general Yerlan Dikhanbayev, be developed in line with EWILS’ East-West Gate (EWG).

This is being built at the Hungarian town of Feneslitke, some 15 km from the border with Ukraine. To occupy a 125 ha plot, EWG is planned to become Europe’s largest overland intermodal terminal at the junction of the Russian (1,520 mm) and European (1,435 mm) gauges.

Featuring the most up-to-date equipment and green technologies, EWG will have an initial handling capacity of 300,000 teu a year. However, as the Hungarian government is planning significant rail infrastructure improvements, the terminal’s annual capacity may well reach 1m teu in the long run, in the opinion of EWILS director general Janos Talosi.

EWG will deploy five wide- and five standard-gauge 850m-long crane tracks, simultaneously able to handle four 740m-long trains and transfer containers from wide- to standard-gauge platforms and vice versa.

In addition, the terminal will be offering a full range of logistics services. Thus, it will have 15,000 sq m of leasable warehouse space with potential for an additional 500,000 sq m of storage and production facilities in the surrounding area.

Positioning itself as the western gate of NSR, EWG will challenge existing rail terminals in Belarus and Poland, which have almost exhausted their potential amid growing market demand for additional capacity to meet expanding Asia-Europe traffic.

Eurotransit and EWILS have agreed to synchronise the launch, in Q1 22, and future operation of their respective terminals. The joint preparatory work will enable them to attract investment, find partners and form a future cargo base.

The two sides are also expecting the collaboration to unlock synergies and allow them to capitalise on the expanding transcontinental traffic, which could treble by 2030.

Hungary’s ambassador in Moscow, Norbert Konkoly, believes the project will make his country one of key players of the international rail transportation market. And Lazlo Mosoczi, transport secretary, said the government plans to transform the country into ‘the Central European hub of cargo transportation’.

That was said following the signing of an agreement between the Budapest airport and that of China’s Zhengzhou for the creation of the so-called Sino-Hungarian Silk Air Way. That’s a different ball game, though…

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