The test container train that departed from Illichivsk for China on the Trans-Caspian route on 15 January will return to Illichivsk during the period of March 15-17. Ukrzaliznytsia’s acting Board Chairman Oleksandr Zavhorodnyi announced this during a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s Council of Exporters and Investors, the CFTS correspondent reports.

"We expect the loaded experimental train to return from China to Ukraine on March 15-17," Zavhorodnyi said.

He noted that the participants in the project have already approved the through freight rate from the Dostyk station (on border of Kazakhstan and China) to the Izov station (on border of Ukraine and Poland), but this rate applies only to 40-foot equivalent units (FEU) of containers.

"We are making efforts to ensure that this same rate applies to conventional freight cars (twenty-foot equivalent unit of container or TEU)," Zavhorodnyi said.

According to him, Ukrzaliznytsia is ready "to work with zero economics” for a period in order to attract cargoes," but he did not specify the length of such a period.

In addition, Zavhorodnyi announced plans to organize a forum in China with the aim of demonstrating the benefits of the new transport route. "It will be in early March. Later, a similar forum will be held in Ukraine," he said.

As reported, Prime Minister Arsenii Yatseniuk said at the meeting on 2 February that the cost of transporting a single container on the new train was about USD 5,500, which is slightly more expensive than the cost of transportation on the traditional route through Russia.

The Trans-Caspian route is a new branch of the Silk Road and an alternative that will allow redirection of cargo flows in the easterly direction, bypassing Russian territory. The new transit route includes ferry services on the Black and Caspian Seas (Illichivsk-Batumi and Alat-Aktau Port) and, according to the Ministry of Infrastructure, it should become competitive compared with the traditional overland route.

The first container train on the route departed from Illichivsk (Odesa region) on 15 January, traveling through Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan to China. The train arrived at its destination on the Chinese border on the 16th day of the journey. The train’s travel time will be reduced to 10-11 days in the future.