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ITE Transport and Logistics

Turkey-Europe intermodal rail freight: who are the major players?

$2 billion worth of foreign goods was transported on Turkish rail routes in 2016, with the EU being a major cargo contributor. That year, total trade turnover between Turkey and Europe, including both exports and imports, exceeded $144.7 billion too.

Turkey also enjoys a unique trade agreement with the EU, in place since 1995, which allows an almost free freight flows between it and Europe. Overall, Turkey is the EU’s fifth largest trading partner.

When it comes to moving freight between Turkey and its European trading partners, rail is an important component of intermodal networks. After all, Turkey has been a natural land bridge between Europe and Asia for centuries – an attribute made even more significant with the onset of international rail links.

Ro-ro and intermodal transport allows Turkish goods to reach deep into Scandinavian, Southern Europe, the UK’s most remote parts, and, well, the entire continent. As such, some big players have emerged who lead the charge when it comes to intermodal, or pure rail, cargo services to Europe. Let’s take a look.

Turkey’s biggest European intermodal rail freight operators

Ekol Logistics

Ekol logistics was amongst the first to introduce roll on-roll off services to Europe. Beginning with maritime routes, through the Aegean and Mediterranean, Ekol then proceeds to shift loads onto their own dedicated block trains at Sète, France and Trieste, Italy.
Today, Ekol employs in excess of 120 containers for its rail fleet – allowing the brand to grow its intermodal, Europe-facing, freight volumes by 20% in 2016.

Davies Turner, a UK-based logistics firm, has been instrumental in developing intermodal links with Ekol. Phillip Stephenson, Chairman of Davies Turner, has said Turkey’s relatively close proximity to the UK means repeat orders and journeys are affordable – and he is expecting a greater level of cargo turnover between Britain and Turkey going forward.

Rail Cargo Group

Rail Cargo Group (RCG) is unique in this list of intermodal rail operators in that it is the only one running rail services directly out of Turkey. 2017 sees the company expanding its European services with the introduction of some new rail routes.

In December 2016, RCG was running a thrice-weekly service from Sopron in Hungary to Istanbul’s Halkali station. Now, it has launched a Poland-Budapest-Istanbul route. BILK terminal in Budapest, a central component of this new line, offers RCG a wide range of onward connections to other points in its network – including Germany’s Ruhr Valley and the entirety of Romania.

RCG will also be teaming up with Turkish state rail operator TCDD to achieve a greater share of railway cargo in the nation’s transport and logistics mix. Privatisation is one of the key trend’s shaping Turkish rail, so RCG might become one of Turkey’s first, private rail operators soon too.

UN Ro-Ro

With this brand, the clue to their services is in their name. Specialists in roll on-roll off services, UN Ro-Ro claims it has the “largest intermodal infrastructure between Europe and Turkey”.  it has been involved in intermodal transport, including operation of its own train fleet, since at least 1998.

Like Ekol Logistics, UN Ro-Ro’s rail network begins proper in mainland Europe. It employs a number of lines, which gives it reach into Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, and Italy. At the ports of Trieste-Fernetti, port/dry port cargoes are loaded onto UN wagons for their journey across the continent.

Europe Intermodal (Kombiverkehr) 

It seems Trieste is the only real port of call for intermodal transport from Turkey. Germany’s Kombiverkehr, under its Europe Intermodal flag, runs the majority of its 30-train fleet from there.
Kombiverkehr operates out of a number of Turkish terminals, including the ports of Ambarli, Haydarpasa, Pendik, Mersin, Alsancak, and Cesme.
Mirroring Ekol and UN Ro-Ro, Kombiverkehr relies on maritime transport before switching to rail to carry its loads on European networks.

Turkey’s commitment to rail construction to benefit intermodal?

Development of Turkey’s railways will continue until at least 2023 – and very likely beyond that. Thousands of kilometres of new track, liberalisation of the network, and billions of dollars of investment is creating a more competitive rail environment in Turkey. Could this pay dividends for intermodal operators?

Very likely. Phillip Stephenson of Davies Turner predicts increased European-focussed services in the near future. There is also China’s monumental One Belt One Road project, which promises to boost rail and roll on-roll off traffic from Turkey to Asia considerably.

Building new track, investment in new rolling stock, and their ancillary technologies, signals increased efficiency on Turkey’s railways. For intermodal operators, or those seeking these services, this means two things:

1.    More streamlined train services which can dramatically slash costs.
2.    Cargoes will reach important sites, such as ports and logistics hubs, lowering transit times considerably.

The future of rail is bright in Turkey – although its development is an ongoing concern. Still, the conditions are emerging for improved railway logistics performance nationwide, which has fantastic implications for future international and intermodal connections.


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