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Silk Road revisited: blending rail and air in Asia.

The ancient Silk Road, popularized in the West by Marco Polo in the 13th Century, has largely been overtaken by modern air and ocean cargo networks.

But during a session at IATA's World Cargo Symposium last month on supply chain management, the old land route from Asia to Europe was discussed as an economically viable option for today's shippers. The main question was: Is this a threat to airfreight, or is it multimodal opportunity?

Session moderator Joost Van Doesburg, with the European Shipper's Council, emphasized the latter, saying his clients still needed an option that is "cheaper than air, but faster than the ocean." Nover Jin, product head, airfreight, for DHL

Global Forwarding's Shanghai and East China region, duly presented about DHL's rail services: RailLine, for full container-load (FCL) shipments, and RailConnect, for less-than-container load (LCL) shipments.

The service runs from coastal China through the former Soviet republics to Europe, with one option using part of Russia's famed Siberian railway. From there, cargo can be unloaded at air hubs and shipped by air to various markets in North and South America and Africa. Most of the cargo shipped so far has been high-tech electronics.

Door-to-door service using this rail/ air option is 18 days, Jin said, compared with about 41 days to make a similar ocean journey. "Not every shipment is that urgent," he told the packed session room. "Airfreight is no doubt faster, but ... customers still need an option in between."

Lothar Moehle, director of air security standardization for Schenker AG's global airfreight division, said the forwarding company naturally has embraced rail, considering how Schenker is a subsidiary of German rail giant Deutsche Bahn. Rather than being a "Trojan Horse," the rail mode is not likely to undermine the airfreight business, he said.

"Customers of ours were caught in a double-whammy," Moehle said. As many moved freight on the ocean, they were hit with the "slow-steaming" practices of some shipping lines to save on fuel, "so they were stuck with even longer wait times."

DB Schenker's rail service, he said, uses standard 20- or 40-foot intermodal containers to move freight from China to Duisberg, Germany, where the containers are taken by bonded truck to air hubs such as Frankfurt, Luxembourg, Liege or Amsterdam. Total door-to-door time cited by Moehle was 23 to 25 days, compared to about 50 to 55 days by ocean vessel or four to five days by aircraft alone.

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Title Annotation:Asia News
Comment:Silk Road revisited: blending rail and air in Asia.(Asia News)
Author:Woods, Randy
Publication:Air Cargo World, International ed.
Date:Apr 1, 2015
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