Will new silk road copy the North America double stack transportation corridors?

The number of trains running between China and Europe increases year by year. In order to avoid bottlenecks, logistics companies are seeking for new routes. The other solution to increase the capacity of the New Silk Road is to convert it into the double-stack rail corridor. Zurich University of Applied Science and leading consulting firm Roland Berger researched this possibility.

The research was inspired by the successful use of rail double-stack transportation in North America, especially in the USA. “A glance at the North American railways shows how rail freight traffic can be operated profitably over long distances. The seven major US Class I Railroads generate margins averaging more than 35 per cent (2017 data)”, Lukas Mani says. According to him, the study examines the possibility to create a double-stack rail freight corridor on the New Silk Road – on the 1520-millimetre stretch through Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus. “This is the largest part of the Eurasian corridor and most of the trains use exactly the same route”, he notes.

Main challenge is to built a dedicated freight corridor

Lukas Mani considers India as a good example. “The only solution to the limited capacity is to build a freight-dedicated corridor, similar to those in India,” he adds. India operates a network of eight freight-dedicated rail corridors that provide double-stack services. Their total length is around 10 thousand kilometres.

However, the double-stack rail corridor, even as a freight-dedicated edition, is impossible without infrastructure investments to avoid the main challenges and obstacles. Those are the track specifications (axle load, etc.), railway tunnels, bridges and level crossings. Of course, the freight-dedicated double-stack corridor should be non-electrified due to the clearance problems with overhead lines. The other challenge is rolling stock. The double-stack line requires special flatcars that are produced by a few manufacturers.