18.11.2021 15:18:51 //
Kimmo Kallonen
Eemeli Sarka

By train to Finland and ship to Europe

The Ports of Helsinki and Hamina-Kotka have rapidly become significant nodes for transit traffic between the Far East and Europe. Next year, Nurminen Logistics’ kilometre-long trains will be running back and forth between Asia and Finland, via Russia, almost every weekday.

In only three years, Nurminen Logistics has succeeded in increasing its rail transport between Finland and Asia many times over. Nurminen began with four trains per month in 2018. Vice President of Sales Marjut Linnajärvi forecasts 20 trains per month next year, that is, one kilometre-long container train every weekday. Since early autumn this year, Nurminen has reached a monthly volume of 15 trains.

In Finland, railway containers can be smoothly forwarded and delivered to other places in Finland, the Nordic countries or Central Europe via the Ports of Helsinki and Hamina-Kotka. Finnish ports have quickly become significant transit stops for traffic between the Far East and Europe.

“When a train is unloaded, the containers can be reloaded for the next leg of their journey on the same day,” says Linnajärvi.

Rail transport now more competitive

The fast growth in rail transport volumes has been influenced by both rapidly increasing cost levels in maritime transport and availability issues. Container freight from the Far East to Europe has quintupled – or even sextupled – over the past year, which has improved the competitiveness of rail transport. Compared to air freight, rail transport is definitely slower yet much more affordable.

Competitiveness within rail transport is also being affected by ongoing renovation work in the Polish rail network, which is slowing down cargo traffic headed for Central Europe. For example, Linnajärvi says that traffic to Finland via Vainikkala, or transit traffic to Europe via Helsinki or Hamina-Kotka, is significantly smoother than traffic via Poland, as VR is able to provide regular scheduled connections from the Vainikkala border.

At present, VR is also able to provide container trains with better timetables than, for example, Polish railways. Another natural advantage that Finland has in transport via Russia is the 160-year-old decision to use the same track gauge as is used in the Russian rail network.

Real-time monitoring

Marjut Linnajärvi also thinks that improved reliability has contributed to the increase in traffic volumes. Trains are now running smoothly – or at least more smoothly than they used to.

“One of the most common questions asked by customers is whether their goods will vanish along the way. Now we can say, no they won’t. Typically, trains no longer stand in railyards or stop at national borders, except for the border between Kazakhstan and China, where the track gauge changes.”

At best, a train can travel from China to Finland in 12 days. Although in practice, the average is currently about three weeks. Linnajärvi says that border crossings in Kazakhstan are acting as “speed bumps”: they occasionally get congested due to inspections and sanitisation procedures, which may add about a week to the schedule.

Nurminen has developed a service package that also enables thermally regulated deliveries. In addition to food, containers can carry all kinds of products that require thermoregulated conditions, such as chemicals or pharmaceuticals. The temperature of the containers can be set between -25 and +25°C, and can also be monitored in realtime during the journey.