Railforum 2017 - Make the Connection

RailForum 2017 provided a comprehensive overview of what’s happening on the tracks now and in the future. Hosted by news anchor Peter Nyman, the event attracted logistics professionals from around the world to Kuusankoskitalo, Kouvola, on 28 September. Under the heading, LOCAL NEWS, the seminar guests received Finnish viewpoints into the evolution of rail.

Jari Grönlund, Director at Unytrade Oy, remarked that the new connection to China is not unheard as such – already in the 1990’s there were serious attempts to promote that connection, but the winds were not favourable for the venture. Now, with sufficient political will and economic upside, Grönlund believes that the connection is ripe and ready. The timing is right, since the competition is facing some serious problems:

“Looking at the German route, for instance, there is a lot of congestion and rescheduling is needed daily for container trains heading to and from Germany.”

According to Grönlund, the Kouvola – Xi’an connection can get the job done in ten days, if everything runs smoothly. This means one day in Finland, two days in Russia, four days in Kazakhstan and three in China. The annual volume could be as much as three million containers.

“With the delivery speed of 10-12 days, the new weekly connection could really be a big thing for Finland.”

Flow of Goods, Flow of Data

Pasi Toivanen, Senior Customs Officer from Finnish Customs, assured that the shared objective of the various customs authorities along the new connection is simple: make foreign trade flow smoothly.

“However, when you’re dealing with three different customs zones, it is not always easy to find the solutions that work.” One problem is that while EU countries automatically share info with each other, the same courtesy is not extended to non-member states.

“Smooth legal procedures are required to accelerate border crossings and technological solutions can be used to improve the exchange of information,” he sums up, adding that security and flexibility are the watch words in the customs operations.  Sometimes the two go hand in hand: if one were to load three containers into one train wagon instead of the customary two, you could increase the volume and prevent unauthorised access to the goods.

Building on Tradition

Ilkka Seppänen, Director at VR Transpoint, commented that Kouvola is well positioned to serve as the westernmost starting point of the new connection, since it has the required capacity and expertise.

“Kouvola has extensive storage services available, for instance.”

According to Seppänen, strategic planning is the key for the success of Kouvola – Xi’an. The first thing is to recognise what are the actual needs of the customers and then come up with the dependability, efficiency and pricing to woe them. Finland is somewhat of a pioneer in all this, with a quarter of the goods being transported on rail.

“That 25% is a rather big share of over-all goods volume in European comparison,” Seppänen adds.

Let’s Get This Party Started

Seppänen points out that the new venture is following in the footsteps of the Trans-Siberian Rail (TSR) which would deliver goods from Finland to Vladivostok in ten days (and vice versa). He recalls TSR being extremely reliable and is wishing for same type of effectiveness for Kouvola – Xi’an connection.

“After all, there are already pulp trains going from Finland to Northwest China, so there’s some foundation to build on – and I believe that the new connection will be a success.”  


Text by Sami Anteroinen, Dialog Designs Oy
​Foto by Johannes Wiehn: Audience