Companies discuss the Modern Silk Road at Railforum 2019

Railforum 2019 seminar showcased several opportunities emerging in rail transport between Europe and Asia. One of the most intriguing areas is loading China-bound trains up with food. In the near future, Norwegian salmon may well hop a train to China. Similarly, cargo from China to Scandinavia doesn’t have to stop there – the immense North American market beckons just over the Atlantic.      

Rune J. Arnøy (photo above, left), Port Director, Port of Narvik, Norway, talked about the ambitious ‘Gateway to North America’ agenda. Historically, the “Iron Ore Line”, reaching from Swedish Kiruna to Narvik, has been the logistical backbone of Northern Scandinavia, transporting iron ore to the coast for over 100 years.

The big news in Narvik is the opening of a new cruise port on October 15, 2019, which will expand the scope of the port considerably. “We want to develop the terminal, logistics and business areas at the Port,” said Arnøy. In addition, there are preliminary plans to build a new harbor in the city.

According to Arnøy, fresh fish is a golden opportunity for the Scandinavia-China rail connection. He pointed out that while containers running from China to Europe are easy enough to fill, there are problems packing up the containers heading back to China.

“This is certainly an important issue for the future,” he said.


BRI is the driver

Arnøy comments that the east-bound rail is something that the Port of Narvik has been working on for years, but now, thanks to Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) there is sufficient momentum for real business.

“The Northern route makes good sense, given the fact that the Central European route is so congested.”

The “salmon bridge” between Narvik and China may soon become a reality, thanks to a new innovation by Norwegian company BluWrap. CEO Ole Strand (photo above, in the middle) from BluWrap talked about “the future of fresh” at Railforum 2019, citing new trends which demand fresh foods and frown on frozen goods.

“This is a demand we see rising in the world,” Strand said.

With BluWrap technology, it is possible to double the shelf life of food goods, allowing for continent-to-continent rail transport. BluWrap is already taking fresh foods, such as salmon and pork, to the EU, the USA and South America.

“We’re presently working to get approval for rail export to China. Hopefully this will happen very soon.”


World is your oyster – and it won’t rot  

Strand envisions a scenario where salmon gets to the Chinese city of Xi’an by train and is taken further from there, if need be.

“When we started talking about this, people said that it can’t be done, that the food will rot.” Studies and feedback from customers say different: the technology makes the food stay fresh for extended periods of time.

“This is a big possibility and a real gamechanger,” he said.


Smart containers emerging

Jaakko Saha, Export Logistic Manager, Tuoretie Oy, added that the “container world” is becoming more diverse all the time. Already, there is satellite assisted monitoring of containers en route in almost real-time and also prudent temperature data available.

“The shift of goods to rail can now include also chilled products,” he said.

At the seminar, Vidar Karlsson, Senior Manager, Eimskip Iceland, offered an update on the development of the Trans-Atlantic route. Eimskip Iceland has 19 vessels and a strong focus on Canada and New England, USA, as future destination of goods. The volumes, as of yet, are minor.

“Our Trans-Atlantic cargo is still only 7% of the total volume, but just a few years ago it was almost zero, so there has been a lot of development.”


Text: Sami Anteroinen, Dialog Designs
Photo: Janne Torikka, Easy Visual