Assessment of intermodal transport corridors: Cases from North-East and Central Asia

Assessment of intermodal transport corridors: Cases from North-East and Central Asia

Research in Transportation Business & Management 5 (2012) 27–37 Contents lists available at SciVerse ScienceDirect Research in Transportation Busine...

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Research in Transportation Business & Management 5 (2012) 27–37

Contents lists available at SciVerse ScienceDirect

Research in Transportation Business & Management

Assessment of intermodal transport corridors: Cases from North-East and Central Asia Madan B. Regmi a,⁎, Shinya Hanaoka b, 1 a b

Transport Division, Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok 10200, Thailand Department of International Development Engineering, Tokyo Institute of Technology, 2-12-1-I4-12, O-okayama, Meguro-ku, Tokyo 152-8550, Japan

a r t i c l e

i n f o

Article history: Received 19 May 2012 Received in revised form 8 November 2012 Accepted 8 November 2012 Available online 5 December 2012 Keywords: Intermodal transport Freight corridors Assessment Asia

a b s t r a c t Intermodal transport that uses various modes, links and transport nodes is gaining more importance these days in Asia. However, there are not many studies that analyze the status of intermodal transport corridors as well as assess their performance. This paper assesses infrastructure and operational status of two important intermodal transport corridors linking North-East and Central Asia namely: Korea–China–Central Asia; and Korea–China–Mongolia–Russian Federation. The corridors use maritime, road and rail modes for the transportation of goods. Status and condition of physical infrastructure such as road, railway, ports, intermodal transfer and border crossing facilities as well non-physical bottlenecks for freight transport operations are examined. It utilizes time–cost-distance approach to assess and compare the performance of intermodal transport corridors. Based on the findings, this paper identifies issues and challenges for the development and operation of intermodal transport corridors in North-East and Central Asia. Finally, policy recommendations to improve physical infrastructure and minimize non-physical barriers to enhance operational efficiency of the intermodal transport corridors are offered which can be useful for other countries and parts of Asia. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction International merchandise trade in Asia has fully rebounded from the effect of global economic crisis and intraregional trade is now growing. It is expected that the trend to continue with China taking the major share of export and import (ESCAP, 2011a). This continuing trend of trade growth needs a new paradigm to improve efficiency and cost-effectiveness of transportation system. One of the emerging transportation concepts is the development of intermodal transport corridors that encompasses various modes, logistics services and transport processes. A transport corridor is a linear orientation of one or more transport routes and flows connecting important locations that act as origins, destinations or points of transshipment (Rodrigue, Comtois, & Slack, 2009). The development of intermodal transport corridors is essential to serve the existing trade flow. It is even more important for landlocked countries as intermodalism would improve connectivity of inland area to ports, markets, and production centers. World Bank's overall transport strategy includes promotion and the development of multimodal transport corridors and logistics services (World Bank,

⁎ Corresponding author. Tel./fax: +66 2 288 3050. E-mail addresses: [email protected] (M.B. Regmi), [email protected] (S. Hanaoka). 1 Fax: +81 3 5734 3772. 2210-5395/$ – see front matter © 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

2008). The development of integrated intermodal transport in Asia is one of the main components of the transport program adopted for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP, 2012a). With the rapid growing international trade volume, international transport also needs to use multiple modes of transportation (train, ship, truck, and air) to increase the efficiency of logistics. Janic (2008) argued that the intermodal freight transport corridors that use road and rail are competitive alternatives to road only freight transport for medium to long-distance transportation hauls. Although there have been concerted efforts to develop international highways and railways in Asia, there remain many road sections and railway lines to be improved (ESCAP, 2006, 2008). Infrastructure development along the intermodal transport corridors has not reached the same level in many parts of Asia. Additional barriers to cross-border movement still exist in Asia because of physical bottlenecks and nonphysical constraints. These inefficiencies in the transport system have an adverse impact on the economic development particularly in landlocked and transit developing countries. The recently concluded Rio+20 Summit renewed the global commitment to sustainable development and promoted an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable future. It also recognized that transport and mobility are central to sustainable development and supported the various elements of sustainable transport system including energy efficient multi-modal transport systems and modalshift (UN, 2012). The transport sector accounts for 23% of global CO2 emissions (IEA, 2009). There are many initiatives underway to reduce the environmental impact of transport system. The development and


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use of intermodal transport corridors for transportation of goods can also help to reduce emissions of pollutants and environmental impacts. Some studies have reviewed the development of transport corridors and assessed their performance (Bunker, 2001; IDB, 2011; Mbekeani, 2010; Raballand, Hartmann, Marteau, Kabanguka, & Kunaka, 2008; Walker, van Grol, Rahman, Lierens, & Horlings, 2004). Some limited studies focus on South-East Asia, Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) (Banomyong & Beresford, 2000) and Central Asia (ADB, 2010). But not many studies focus on transport corridors in North-East and Central Asia. Against this background, the paper reviews the status of international intermodal transport corridors linking North-East and Central Asia and assesses their operational performance. It includes assessment of physical infrastructure such as ports, maritime transport, railways, roads, border crossing facilities, intermodal transfer points as well as non-physical measures such as the border crossing and customs clearance processes. With regard to assessment of operation total transportation time and cost along the international transport corridors are evaluated and compared. Following this introduction, a further elaboration of the intermodal transport corridor is made in Section 2, then the method for assessment and data collection is outlined in Section 3, the Asian case studies are included in Section 4, Section 5 highlights the key findings and discusses the implication for transportation business as well as government including the potential use of information and communication technology (ICT) to improve the operational efficiency of the intermodal transport corridors and finally conclusions and the way forward are presented in Section 6.

2. Intermodal transport corridors 2.1. Definition of transport corridor A transport corridor can be a specified route, ideally intermodal, that can expedite the movements of goods and people across international borders by connecting key points in different countries. Due to their remoteness from seaports, landlocked countries face additional challenges associated with high transportation cost and time. International cooperation is essential to provide transit access and the development of an efficient transportation system for landlocked countries (Chowdhury & Erdenebileg, 2006). Kazakhstan and Mongolia are two landlocked countries along the corridors considered. Transport corridors can provide an answer to the poor accessibility to resources, markets and to the sea for the landlocked countries. To be effective an intermodal corridor, covering two or more transport modes, should not ideally exceed 200 km width. 2 Douma and Kriz (2003) took a spatial approach and defined a transportation corridor as a geographical area between two points, linking multiple centers, and moving people and freight. TRB (1999) broadly defined a corridor as a geographic area that accommodates travel or potential travel. A transport corridor can be domestic, international or transit corridor. An international intermodal transport movement involves at least one border crossing from one country to another that can expedite the movements of goods and people across international borders. A study had examined potential road and rail land transport corridors linking Central Asia and Europe (UN, 1997). Intermodal transport refers to the movement of goods in one and the same loading unit or road vehicle, which uses successively two or more modes of transport without handling the goods themselves in changing modes (ECE, 2001). Whereas the carriage of goods by two or more modes of transport is referred to as the multimodal transport.


Pan European Ministerial Transport Conference, Crete, 1994.

One of the effective approaches to address all aspects of transport can be through the corridor-based approach. Intermodal transport enables cargo to be consolidated into economically large units (containers, bulk grain railcars, etc.) by optimizing the use of specialized intermodal handling equipment to effect high-speed cargo transfer among ships, barges, railcars, and truck chassis using the least labor to increase logistic flexibility, reduce delivery times, and minimize operating costs. 2.2. Development of transport corridors and their assessment Some corridors are developed on the basis of political vision rather than economic necessity as was the case of Dar es Salaam multimodal corridor comprising of railway, road, pipeline and port linking Zambia to port of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania which has become less significant than in the early years of development (Gleave, 1992). The actual trade flows along the GMS East-West Economic Corridor are mostly to/from Bangkok/Laem Chabang port and to/from Hai Phong and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam rather than the origin and destination of the corridor namely Tak to Da Nang (Banomyong, Sopadang, & Ramingwong, 2010). Many studies have assessed or evaluated transport corridors (ADB, 2010; Banomyong, 2005; Banomyong & Beresford, 2000; Bunker, 2001; IDB, 2011; Janic, 2008; Mbekeani, 2010; Raballand et al., 2008; Walker et al., 2004). Usually the evaluation of international transport process is combined with trade and transport facilitation measures (World Bank, 2005). Woxenius (2007) reviewed various principles of transport systems and applied these to intermodal freight transport. Banomyong and Beresford (2000) used a simple time–cost-distance approach to evaluate the intermodal transport corridor in Asia and identified time and cost related barriers. Time–cost-distance approach is also extensively used by the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and ADB for the assessment of transport operation (ADB, 2010; Banomyong, 2005, 2008; UN, 2003, 2006). Whereas other studies have considered additional aspects of corridor operation in addition to cost and time, for example, Arnold, Ollivier, and Arvis (2005) considered reliability and flexibility, and Raballand et al. (2008) looked at infrastructure and service perspective while evaluating the Northern Corridor in Africa. Lessons from earlier corridor development studies indicate that planning and development of intermodal transport corridor require careful considerations and various approaches can be used for their evaluation and assessment. 2.2.1. Environmental consideration Freight transport is predominantly carried by road transport in Asia which is energy intensive than other modes. One way to reduce environmental impacts and emissions from transport operations could be through modal shift from road to intermodal transport or other environmental friendly modes such as railway or inland waterways. Improved logistics organization, coordination, and corridor route planning could reduce CO2 emissions by as much as 10–20% worldwide (OECD, 2010). The development and use of intermodal transport corridors for transportation of goods can help to reduce emissions of pollutants and environmental impacts. Many studies are available that look at the environmental aspect of intermodal corridors and logistics. Farzaneh, Lee, Villa, and Zietsman (2011) analyzed the air quality and GHG emissions from truck and train operation along the Mexico–Montreal corridor, Hanaoka, Hussain, Kawasaki, and Kunadhamraks (2011) compared the energy consumption of various combinations of intermodal transport modes along a transport corridor in Thailand and Hanaoka and Regmi (2011) evaluated the development of intermodal freight transport and logistics from environmental perspectives. Even though the paper does not discuss further the environmental aspect of intermodal transport corridors, the corridors are expected to

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include various modes such as roads, railways, inland waterways, and shipping. This would allow transport operators to consider using a combination of modes and providing an opportunity for a modal shift, that offers environmental benefits and minimize impacts from transport operations along the corridors. 2.2.2. Intermodal infrastructure and cost Standard and quality of infrastructure, underdevelopment of logistics infrastructure and services, limited availability of multi-modal transport services and relatively high costs of international transport services for small cargo are often seen as barriers for the growth of intermodal transport. Development of modern intermodal logistics centers as well as improvement in operations could consolidate freight for the international market in sufficient volumes and allocate them to the most efficient transportation mode. A cost model was applied in the UK–Greece corridor and it was argued that it could contribute towards a wider discussion on freight mode choice (Beresford, 1999). A decision support tool can assist logistics service provider to select optimum multimodal route; such a tool was developed to optimize transportation routing within GMS countries (Kengpol, Meethom, & Tuominen, 2012). The level of development of logistics industry in a country has also much bearing on the overall efficiency of transport processes. The logistic performance index (LPI), among the countries along the case study corridors in this paper shows a wide variation. The Republic of Korea (3.64) and China (3.49) have high LPI, while Kazakhstan (2.83), Mongolia (2.25) and the Russian Federation (2.61) have low LPI (Arvis, Mustra, Panzer, Ojala, & Naul, 2010). This indicates that much improvement of logistics infrastructure and services to facilitate international trade are required in Kazakhstan, Mongolia and the Russian Federation. 2.2.3. Customs clearance and border crossing Many studies have identified issues related to customs clearance and delay at the border as a major constraint in the transport process along a corridor. World Bank (2005) found that more than 50% of transit time is lost at waiting at borders while analyzing Almaty–Europe (through Moscow) corridor. Walker et al. (2004) identified bottlenecks restricting the use of intermodal freight transport linking Western Europe with Central and Eastern Europe, analyzed various policies and prioritized those for reducing bottlenecks. Raballand, Kunth, and Auty (2005) stated that the increase in transportation cost and time and border-crossing problems are some of the reasons for trade imbalance and low trade volumes between Central Asia and Europe. Islam, Dinwoodie, and Roe (2006) explored impediments to developing efficient multimodal transport in Bangladesh and concluded that streamlining customs procedures and provision of door-to-door service by shippers were essential to improve the efficiency of operation. Even though international and transit trucks are allowed to cross borders in Central Asia, there are different procedures to gain entry/ exit permits for crossing border and various unofficial charges required to accelerate the border crossing and clearance process. There are cases of reciprocal charges levied on trucks originating from a particular country (IRU, 2000). This makes time required to cross border in Central Asia unpredictable and unofficial payments are often cited as one of the reasons for increasing transportation cost. For example, USCC (2006) found that the cost of trucking from Asia to Europe using land transport routes can be 3 to 4 times higher than sea transportation even though they are not comparable. The use of ICT, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), satellite positioning system can facilitate the secure movement of goods across borders and can help to reduce the time needed for processing cargo and border clearance as well as transportation cost. ICT can also help to assess real time information on freight location along a corridor. Electronic seal, cargo tracking system is being extensively used to secure and track the movement of containers along corridors in China,


Republic of Korea, and Thailand (ESCAP, 2012b). Zografos and Regan (2004) analyzed the contribution of emerging ICT technology for efficient intermodal transport operations and freight transport in Europe and the United States. This indicates the need to explore the potential use and application of ICT in improving the efficiency of transportation along intermodal transport corridors. 2.2.4. Coordination and cooperation among stakeholders The development and operation of intermodal transport corridor are a complex issue. It involves different sectors and government agencies. While infrastructure development is usually led by the public sector, its operation involves both public and private sectors. It is often found that railway is operated by the public sector while road transportation is operated by the private sector in majority of Asian countries. There is somewhat a perceived belief that transport operation that is handled and managed by a private sector is more efficient and competitive than that managed by a public sector. Therefore, there is a challenge to ensure efficient collaboration among various stakeholders to manage and operate intermodal transport corridors within a country as well as those crossing one or more borders. Collaboration among stakeholders and developing collaborative hub networks can help to reduce logistics cost and maintain logistics services by selecting appropriate modes that ensures economies of scale (Groothedde, Ruijgrok, & Tavasszy, 2005). Caris, Macharis, and Janssens (2008) argued that increased level of coordination and cooperation between stakeholders in the intermodal transport chain is required to improve the performance of intermodal freight transport and indicated that further research is needed in this area. De Vries and Priemus (2003) recommended that improved coordination and cooperation between the public and private sectors, coordination between central and local governments and improvement of border crossing arrangements are essential to improve the performance of corridors. Lehtinen and Bask (2012) analyzed four business models considering manufactures, trading company, transport company and 3PL company perspectives of transport corridors that employed road, rail and short sea modes. They concluded that while theoretical study favors the corridor in practice it is partly favored. They indicated that the coordination of manufacturer and trading companies was an important issue that needed to be further explored. Chapman, Pratt, Larkham, and Dickins (2003) stated the difficulty in integrating policies and defining scope of London–West Midland Corridor. Some had argued about the improved governance and management of corridors (Priemus & Zonneveld, 2003). The responsibility to manage the parts of the transport corridors lies with the national government. A corridor based management and coordination is a need for the day. Asian Development Bank (ADB, 2010) has also been trying to improve corridor operation through its subregional programs. Although the condition of infrastructure along some intermodal transport corridors in Asia has improved, there is much to be done to improve the efficiency of corridor operation. Therefore, it would be useful to assess the condition of intermodal infrastructure, procedural impediments and intermodal transport operation and management along corridors. The next section outlines the method and data collection approach. 3. Method and data The intermodal transport corridors linking North-East and Central Asia assessed in this paper involve maritime, road and rail transport modes linking the Republic of Korea with Kazakhstan, Mongolia and the Russian Federation passing through China. The assessment of two intermodal transport corridors is carried out through the evaluation of the physical condition of infrastructure and transport processes including non-physical bottlenecks along the corridors. Data relating to the state of transport infrastructure, time and cost involved in the


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whole transportation process along the corridors are collected. The overall condition, performances, operational effectiveness and efficiency of corridors are evaluated and compared. The condition of road surface, geometry, type of pavement, border crossing facilities, intermodal logistics infrastructure and facilities is evaluated by visual survey during the site visits as well as through comparison of collected data. For this purpose, the time–cost-distance approach is used (Banomyong & Beresford, 2000). By evaluating and comparing the cost and time required for transportation, processing and transshipment along a leg of a corridor and at intermodal transfer and border crossing points, any inefficiencies or bottlenecks of the transport process are identified. Data collection involved three tasks: collection of infrastructure data; site visits; and collection of operational data from private sector and government officials. The data for the study were gathered through several means including questionnaire survey, three corridor assessment field visits during September 2008, October 2008 and July 2010, and interviews with government officials as well as public operators and private sector transport service providers and shippers. It involved collection of data for road, railways, intermodal transfer points, ports and border crossing facilities. It also involved collection of data on transport processes and existing practices and regulation. The infrastructure data was collected from transport officials (focal points) in countries using questionnaire survey. The operational data relating to time and cost were mainly collected from private sector transport service providers and freight forwarders in December 2010. In addition, the operational data of Zaamin-Uud–Yekaterinburg leg was provided by the Ministry of Road, Transportation, Construction and Urban Development, Mongolia. Three field visits 3 to assess roads, railways, and border crossing facilities and meet and discuss with transport officials, operators and transport service providers were undertaken. Some secondary data as well as the data provided by the participants attending the expert group meetings organized during 2009 and 2010 were also used. Owing to the sensitivity of the operation cost and time data for the private sector operators for their business competitiveness, difficulty was faced in the collection of operational data relating to transportation cost.

4.1. Corridor 1: Incheon–Tanggu–Tianjin–Zaamin-Uud–Ulaanbaatar– Naushiki–Yekaterinburg This is a major international corridor linking Korean Peninsula to China, Mongolia and the Russian Federation. The length of the corridor is 6835 km that includes 870 km Incheon–Tanggu maritime route, 980 km Tanggu–Erenhot rail line, 8 km Erenhot–Zaamin-Uud rail line (border), and 1087 Km Zaamin-Uud–Sukahbaatar rail line, and 3890 km Naushiki–Yekaterinburg rail line. Insufficient wagons and containers at Tanggu port, lack of sufficient wagons, locomotives, parking lots, storages, and warehouses, limited transshipment facility at Zaamin-Uud, and single track railway line in Jining–Erenhot line in China and Zaamin-Uud–Sukhbaatar line in Mongolia are some of the physical barriers of the corridors. The corridor starts at the Incheon port. There is a regular shipping service along the maritime leg and the traffic volume along the maritime leg is shown in Table 1. It shows a slight decrease in the total container volume in 2009 and 2010 due to economic recession which has rebounded in year 2011. Due to the long waiting time for freight trains at Tianjin, road transport is being increasingly used in Tianjin–Erenhot leg. The 842 km road section within China is of good quality with more than 4 lanes. However, among 1041 km road in Mongolia, the condition of 450 km section from Zaamin-Uud to Choir is poor and currently under construction. Despite the existence of bilateral road transport agreements among countries, Chinese trucks are allowed to cross only up to Zaamin-Uud while Mongolian trucks can move only short distance to the main distribution center at Erenhot which is at a distance of 2 km from the border crossing. Mongolian trucks are not permitted to enter into Russian Federation, though Russian trucks travel from northern Mongolia directly to Ulaanbaatar. Trilateral transit agreement was being discussed among China, Mongolia and the Russian Federation but it is taking more time than anticipated to finalize the agreement. The operation of the corridors was assessed dividing it into two legs.

The location and alignment of these corridors are shown in Fig. 1. The following paragraphs provide further details of the two intermodal international transport corridors.

4.1.1. Leg 1 corridor 1: Incheon–Tanggu–Erenhot–Ulaanbaatar Fig. 2 shows the time–distance chart of freight transport between Incheon and Ulaanbaatar. The mode of transport used for Incheon– Tanguu was maritime, Tanggu–Erenhot in China was road and the final leg from Erenhot–Ulaanbaatar was railway. It took a total of 7.4 days to deliver cargo covering a distance of 2369 km. As seen in Fig. 2 there are two bottlenecks in the transport corridor represented by time delays (vertical offsets) at Tanggu port and Erenhot–Zaamin-Uud border. The process of unloading, documentation, customs clearance and transshipment at Tanggu port took a total of 8.5 h which can be considered reasonable. However, this cannot be a case for complacency. It only took 5 h to prepare documents, loading in truck, stuffing cargoes in containers, customs clearance, waiting and loading in ship at Incheon. In contrast, the total clearance and transshipment process at Erenhot–Zaamin-Uud border took 32 h that included document processing and clearance at Chinese side 4 h, transshipment 4 h as Chinese and Mongolian railways use different railway gauges and custom inspection and clearance in Mongolian side was 24 h. It was mentioned that the customs officers at Zaamin-Uud inspected and checked the cargo manually. ADB (2010) even reported a gloomier picture on the process at the border. The process took 59 h including rail gauge change train waited 44.8 h at Erenhot and 6.8 h at Zaamin-Uud. The loading/ unloading took 6.7 h and customs clearance took 3 h at Zaamin-Uud and same activities at Erenhot took 5 h and 2.6 h respectively.

3 Almaty and Khorgos (Kazakhstan) were visited in September 2008, Beijing, Erenhot, Zaamin-Uud and Ulaanbaatar were visited in October 2008 and Urumqi, Alashankou and Horgos were visited in July 2010.

4.1.2. Leg 2 corridor 1: Zaamin-Uud–Sukhbaatar–Novosibirisk–Yekaterinburg Fig. 3 shows the time–distance chart of freight transport between Zaamin-Uud and Yekaterinburg leg using railway. It took a total of

4. The case of intermodal freight corridors in North-East and Central Asia Countries in Asia are at different stages in the development of transport corridors. The state of infrastructure, intermodal facilities, border crossing points and processes varies widely among the countries of the corridors. This section presents the cases of intermodal transport corridors and discusses the key status of infrastructure, operational, regulatory and institutional factors affecting their efficient operation. Two intermodal corridors linking the Republic of Korea with China, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and the Russian Federation are considered. Corridor 1: Incheon – Tanggu – Tianjin – Beijing – Eranhot – Zaamin-Uud – Ulaanbaatar – Sukhbaatar – Naushiki – Novosibirsk – Yekaterinburg. Corridor 2: Incheon – Lianyungang – Zhenzhou – Xi'an – Lanzhou – Turpan – Urumqi – Alashankou – Dostyk – Aktogai – Ushtobe – Almaty – Astana.

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Fig. 1. Location of intermodal transport corridors.

4.2. Corridor 2: Incheon–Lianyungang–Alashankou–Dostyk– Almaty–Astana

Table 1 Maritime traffic along Incheon to/from Tianjin leg of corridor 1. (in TEUs). Maritime route





Incheon to Tianjin Tianjin to Incheon Total

65,156 38,634 103,780

51,777 35,321 86,998

43,893 41,599 85,492

55,856 38,030 93,886

Source: Incheon Port Authority,

11 days to deliver cargo covering a distance of 4982 km. As seen in Fig. 3 the only bottleneck in the transport corridor is Sukhbaatar– Naushiki border. It took 40 h to complete the process at the border. In Sukhbaatar (Mongolia) it took 1 h for document processing and 18 h for customs clearance. While at Naushiki (Russian Federation) it took 2 h for document processing and 19 h for customs clearance. Transshipment was not required at the border as Mongolia and the Russian Federation use the same railway gauge. The freight forwarding industry is in the early stage of development in Mongolia and the railway is operated by a government undertaking. Owing to the fact that private sector railway operation could be more efficient there are some initiatives to operate blocktrain service by the private sector. However, more specific actions would be required to enhance attractiveness of the corridors such as cooperation between private sector, railway agencies and customs administrations. The use of automated system for customs data (ASYCUDA) 4 for customs declaration and the use of ICT such as electronic data interchange (EDI) protocols can shorten time needed to clear goods and cross border. ADB (2010) reported that train clearance process took a total of 22.5 h at Sukhbaatar side including 13.9 h on average for customs clearance, 3.6 h waiting in queue to cross border, 2.9 h for loading/ unloading and 2.1 h for weight inspection.


This is a major international corridor linking Korean Peninsula to China, Central Asia and eventually to Europe. The length of the corridor is 6900 km that includes 720 km Incheon–Lianyungang maritime route, 4114 km Lianyungang–Alashankou rail line, 12 km Alashankou–Dostyk rail line (border), and 2194 km Dostyk–Astana railway line. There are regular container block train services along the Lianyungang–Alashankou leg with a frequency of more than one block train per day and take about six to seven days for the whole journey. Some block trains operate up to Almaty. Lack of wagon supply and waiting time for train at Lianyungang port and outdated equipment and limited number of tracks available for transshipment at Alashankou–Dostyk border are the physical barriers of the corridors. The corridor starts at Incheon port. There is a regular shipping service between the Incheon and Lianyungang maritime leg. The traffic volume along the maritime leg is shown in Table 2. It shows a steady growth of the total volume of container trade along the leg. Khorgos is a road border crossing between China and Kazakhstan. The length of Chinese road from Lianyungang to Khorgos border is 4244 km. The roads are paved and are in good condition with 2 to 8 lanes. The Khorgos–Almaty road in Kazakhstan is being upgraded. However, there are different working hours at Khorgos border between Kazakhstan and China which need to be harmonized. Fig. 4 shows the time–distance chart of freight transport between Incheon and Astana using maritime and railway transport. It took a total of 28.4 days to deliver cargo covering a distance of 7040 km. 5 As seen in Fig. 4 there are two major bottlenecks in the transport corridor one is Lianyungang port and the other is Alashankou–Dostyk border. It took 216 h (9 days) for transit clearance, loading and waiting time for freight train at Lianyungang. While unloading from ship, document processing and customs clearance took 10 h and the waiting time for container train was 206 h. It was indicated that lack of sufficient wagons was the major problem. The other major barrier was at the border crossing point between Alashankou (China) and Dostyk (Kazakhstan). It took 49 h (2 days) to complete the border crossing process whereas document processing, 5

This includes 140 km road leg from a factory to port in the Republic of Korea.


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Fig. 2. Time–distance graph of Incheon–Ulaanbaatar (leg 1 corridor 1).

Fig. 3. Time–distance graph for Zaamin-Uud–Yekaterinburg (leg 2 corridor 1).

customs clearance on both sides took 13 h. As transshipment is required due to the use of different railway gauges 36 h was required to complete the transshipment process and waiting at Dostyk due to the limited number of tracks available to support rail gauge change for container train. During the discussion with private sector freight forwarders in Kazakhstan it was revealed that the freight forwarding industry is not much developed in Central Asia and government support was sought to improve the freight transport industry. They were also keen to introduce ICT technology for monitoring and tracking of containers that could eliminate chances of loss and damage of cargo along the route.

Table 2 Maritime traffic along Incheon to/from Lianyungang leg of corridor 2. Maritime route





Incheon to Lianyungang Lianyungang to Incheon Total

26,506 19,967 45,573

28,605 19,464 47,069

32,885 24,621 57,506

31,544 28,613 60,157

Source: Incheon Port Authority,

ADB (2010) reported that train waiting time was 25.5 h on Dostyk and 5.5 h at Alashankou, while the customs clearance time was 3 to 4 h at both sides of the borders. It was indicated that Dostyk has one of the longest waiting time even though it handles about 15 million tons of freight annually. 4.3. Comparison of transportation cost and time along the corridors 4.3.1. Transportation cost Even though the cost data are very sensitive to the transport service providers, Fig. 5 shows the average transportation cost along the corridors. The transportation cost includes vehicle operation cost, cost of fuel, driver, loading and unloading, handling of containers at ports and borders, and transshipment, while in the case of railway it also includes locomotive operation cost, track access fee, and cost of return of empty containers. The average cost of Incheon–Ulaanbaatar was high due to the use of road transport for Tianjin–Erenhot leg. The cost of Zaamin-Uud–Yekaterinburg was also high due to the high cost in Mongolia that was a result of insufficient cargo volume in both legs. Rather than looking at the absolute values the comparison can

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Fig. 4. Time–distance graph for Incheon–Astana (corridor 2).

indicate and guide towards reducing cost factors. The cost also very much depends on the load factor and type of cargo. In some legs (Erenhot–Tianjin) the loading factor was as low as 50% due to the fact that containers have to be retuned empty. Fig. 6 shows a further breakdown of average transportation cost of various legs of the two corridors. The transportation cost shown is for railway mode and these figures do not include the additional costs incurred at ports and borders. The private companies mentioned that the availability of sufficient cargoes, use of container for both legs and availability of regular train services affect the average transportation cost. The high cost of the Erenhot to Tianjin leg was because the cargo was only available for one way trip and empty containers have to be transported without cargo to Tianjin. On the contrary, the logistics company could get a return cargo and easily fill up the container in Lianyungang–Alashankou hence low transportation cost. Also it is cheaper to use routes having regular container train services. While there are many regular container train services between Lianyungang and Alashankou the service is not regular between Tianjin and Erenhot. Also, the cost of transportation tends to be cheaper on corridors having sufficient quantities of cargoes. The cost also depends on the type of goods and negotiating power (or business relationship) between private transport service providers and shippers. There should be efforts to shorten the transit clearance and waiting time for container train at Tanggu and Lianyungang. Based on the data provided by the Ministry of Road, Transportation, Construction and Urban Development, in Mongolia the average

cost of transportation of 1 TEU of cargo within Mongolia from Erenhot to Naushiki by road was US $ 2020 but the transportation time varied from 43.5 h to 97.5 h. In case of railway the cost was US $ 782 and time 72 h. This indicates the cost effectiveness of rail mode along the leg; however the time taken was more than the lower value of the time taken by road mode. This is in line with the finding of Janic (2008) who argued that the total cost of intermodal transport system decreases more than proportionally as the door-to-door distance increases, indicating the economies of distances and utilizing long intermodal freight trains the “break-even” can be shortened. As indicated in Section 4.1 the bottlenecks of time also represent the points where additional costs are incurred. Both border crossing Erenhot–Zaamin-Uud and Sukhbaatar–Naushiki along corridor 1 added a total cost of US $ 150 per TEU for border crossing, customs clearance and transshipment process. The goods transported along corridor 1 were consumer goods, tea and tissue rolls. While for corridor 2 clearance and handling at Lianyungang port added a total cost of US $ 100/TEU and handling, transshipment and clearance at Alashankou (China) and Dostyk (Kazakhstan) border added a total cost of US $ 150/TEU. The goods transported along corridor 2 were electronic products, television components and resins. 4.3.2. Average transportation time Fig. 7 shows a wide variation of average transportation speed along the entire corridors. In addition to the delays at the border and ports, the average speed of intermodal corridors involving maritime and railway gets further reduced by the waiting time for the

Incheon-Ulaanbaatar (leg 1 corridor 1)


Zaamin Uud-Yekaterinburg (leg 2 corrior 1)



Incheon-Astana (Corridor 2)











Average Transportation Cost (US $ /TEU/Km) (Source: Data provided by the private sector, December 2010) Fig. 5. Average transportation cost along the corridors.



M.B. Regmi, S. Hanaoka / Research in Transportation Business & Management 5 (2012) 27–37

1. 75



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1. 23

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Legs of Transportation Corridors

(Source: Data provided by the private sector, December 2010) Fig. 6. Average transportation cost.

railways at ports and transshipment required at border where there is change in the railway gauge. A speed of about 19 km/h on Incheon– Erenhot was due to the use of a road leg which avoided the need to wait for the railway wagon. The average speed of Zaamin-Uud– Yekaterinburg leg was similar as transshipment was not required at borders. The low average speed of transportation along Incheon– Erenhot (rail) and Incheon–Astana route was due to the long waiting time at ports. The comparison of travel time between Incheon and Erenhot indicated that the combination of maritime and railway takes 264 h while that by road takes 88 h. The main reason for more time for railway is that transit clearance and loading/waiting time in Tanggu for container train normally takes seven to fourteen days. Even though time for using railway takes longer than using road transport, it was indicated that the private sectors prefer to use railway because of cost-saving. Fig. 8 shows the average running speed along the legs of the corridors (excluding delay and clearance time) derived from Figs. 2, 3 and 4. For corridor 1, the average running truck speed was 25.6 km/h along the Tanggu–Erenhot leg, while rail running speed along Zaamin-Uud– Ulaanbaatar was 15 km/h and 31 km/h for Naushiki–Yekaterinburg. From Fig. 4 for corridor 2 the average running speed of train was 20 km/h for Liyanyungang–Alashankpu leg and 16 km/h for Dostyk– Almaty leg in Kazakhstan. These running speeds are less compared to earlier studies. The demonstration runs of container block trains in 2003 and 2004 by ESCAP showed an average rail speed of 27.5 km/h along the Zaamin-Uud–Ulaanbaatar leg, 32.8 km/h along the Lianyungang– Alashankou leg and 31.8 km/h along the Dostyk–Almaty leg.6 Also, the average running speed of block trains along the Laem Chabang port and Lat Krabang container depot in Thailand is 36 km/h for a distance of 126 km.7 Fig. 9 shows the time required for document processing, clearance, waiting for container and trains and transshipment at ports and borders. The cargoes have to wait long for container block trains at Tanggu and Lianyungang ports if the onward transport is by train. However, if the onward transportation used a road leg, the total processing time required at Tanggu was reasonable with a total time of 6 7

8.5 h. Those private transport operators who are time sensitive mentioned that they prefer to use road along the Tianjin–Erenhot route in order to avoid long waiting time for freight train. Time spent in transit and delay at border can affect the trade and value of goods. It can also make transportation of perishable goods difficult and unfeasible. Each additional day spent in transit can reduce trade by 1% and daily depreciation rate of high values goods can be as high as 2.5% (USCC, 2006). 5. Findings The performance of intermodal transport corridors depends on the inter-relationship between the service providers and users as well interaction between modes of transport involved in a particular corridor, which in our case was maritime, road and railway. In both cases state of infrastructure, border crossing process, interaction of transport modes at the borders, unavailability of wagons and frequency of freight trains emerged as major bottlenecks that increased total transportation time and cost along the corridors. Excessive security checks of cargoes, trucks and wagons, differences in border crossing processes and opening times of the border control offices also added to further delay in transportation. The following paragraphs summarize the findings and proposal for improvements. 5.1. Infrastructure and corridor operation Single track railway lines in part of the corridors such as Kuitin– Alashakou and Jilin–Erenhot in China and Zaamin-Uud–Sukhbaatar in Mongolia limit the capacity of the corridors. With only a single-track railway, priority is given to passenger trains, while freight trains move mainly at night. There are plans to electrify Aktogay–Dostyk line and construct Khorgos–Zhetygen (near Almaty) rail line in Kazakhstan and double track the railway in Mongolia. There is also lack of sufficient wagons and containers at Lianyungang and Tanggu seaports which further delays clearance and dispatch of goods. For the improvement of railway operation along the corridors' improvement, provision of sufficient locomotives, wagons and containers, improving traction through electrification of rail lines, improving technology and speed enhancement, improvement of border crossing infrastructure and transshipment facilities

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Incheon-Erenhot (Maritime -Road leg Corridor 1)


Incheon-Erenhot (Maritime-Rail leg corridor 1 )


Incheon-Ulaanbaatar (leg 1 Corridor 1)


Zaamin Uud-Yekaterinburg (leg 2 Corriodr 1)


Incheon-Astana (Corridor 2)

10.32 0











Average Transporataion Speed (Km/hr) (Source: Data provided by the private sector, December 2010) Fig. 7. Average transportation speed along the corridors.

and modernization of intermodal transfer facilities, seaports, inland container depots and dry ports are essential. In addition, when road mode is used poor condition of roads in Mongolia and Kazakhstan is also a cause of concern in addition to the cumbersome procedures for road border crossing for trucks. Further, in winter the driving condition on the road gets worse because of the extreme cold weather. Improvement of road sections and border crossing infrastructure and modernization of vehicle fleet are needed to improve the performance of transport corridors. Similarly, in Australia the priority to improve reliability, efficiency and productivity of transport services included maintenance and rehabilitation of road and rail infrastructure and use of high occupancy vehicles (DOTARS, 2007).

corridors is the improvement of regulatory arrangements for transport facilitation at border crossing points. The border crossing procedures can be streamlined through accession to the international transport conventions and agreement among the countries. Strengthening the capacity of officials at border crossings and enhancing cooperation between public and private sector are also required. USAID and AGRIFUTURO's (2010) findings of the Nacala Corridor in Mozambique are similar and that can be generalized to the corridor assessment, some of which are: lack of corridor development strategy; lack of institutional and regulatory structure; trade facilitation; high transportation costs; poor physical infrastructure; lack of rolling stocks and line capacity and sub-optimal train operation. Arnold et al. (2005) have argued that initiatives to improve market access, interoperability and interconnection are required.

5.2. Border crossing procedures The inefficiency at border crossing points between Erenhot (China) and Zaamin-Uud (Mongolia), Sukhbaatar (Mongolia) and Naushiki (Russian Federation), and Alashankou (China) and Dostyk (Kazakhstan) was very visible. The total time spent at the borders accounted for 22.5% on Incheon–Tianjin–Ulaanbaatar leg of corridor 1, 17% on Zaamin-Uud– Yekaterinburg leg of corridor 1 and 46% on Incheon–Lianyungang– Almaty–Astana leg of corridor 2. One of the most important and common factors for enhancing the efficiency of intermodal transport

5.3. Implication for managerial practices The research findings clearly indicate the need to improve transportation operation and process at the borders. They are both relating to the improvement of infrastructure, processes and transportation management. The responsibility for improving infrastructure and process largely lies with the government authorities. However, in order to avoid the delays at the borders transporters and transport

Tanggu-Erenhot Leg (Truck) Corridor 1


Zaamin Uud-Ulaanbaatar Leg (Rail) Corridor 1


Naushiki-Yekaterinburg Leg (Rail) Corridor 1


Liyanyungang-Alashankou Leg (Rail) Corridor 2


Dostyk-Astana Leg (Rail) Corridor 2

16 0








Average Running Speed (Km/hr) (Source: Data provided by the private sector, December 2010) Fig. 8. Average running speed along the corridors.

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Waiting and Clerance Time (hours)


Location of Ports and Borders (Source: Data provided by the private sector, December 2010) Fig. 9. Waiting and clearance time at ports and borders along the corridors.

service providers need to be familiar with the clearance process at the border and present all the required documents. Many of the consignment notes, information on cargoes and goods can be provided in advance through the use of information and communication technology. There are, however, certain obstacles in the process which managerial practice alone cannot overcome, and would need technology and infrastructure. For example in order to eliminate transshipment of trains at borders and to overcome break-of-gauge problem requires measures such as manual or mechanical transshipment of goods from wagons of one gauge to wagons of the other gauge, change of bogies, or the use of “variable-gauge” wagons (ESCAP, 2011b). Transportation time, cost and reliability are key factors that enhance competition among transport service providers. In order to ensure efficient operation periodic study and monitoring of cost and time along the intermodal transport corridors is essential and in-depth analysis would be useful for periodic assessment of improvement and operation of the corridors. Transport operators can facilitate improvements in transport operation by transparent and regular collection and monitoring of key transport performance indicators (ECE, International Transport Forum, & World Bank, 2009). One of the ways of improving transport operation is joining and implementation of multilateral transport operation agreements. To tackle down non-physical transport barrier due to a lack of coordination among various authorities involved in the entire border crossing process, the country could consider establishing a single corridor management authority. It was revealed that the Kazakhstan government was exploring an integrated approach to border management as a single entity responsible for all inspections to improve the efficiency of transport because phytosanitary and veterinary inspections at Khorgos were conducted by different government agencies. Active participation from not only government but also private sector such as transport operators and service providers is necessary.

5.4. Use of information and communication technology (ICT) There is much scope to use ICT to improve intermodal transport operations, border crossing operations and clearance of goods. Many countries are using ASYCUDA for customs declaration including foreign trade procedures. Initiating and use of ASYCUDA and other electronic data interchange (EDI) protocols can reduce time and cost required for customs processing. Now even the concept of paperless trade is emerging, if adopted, at border by the countries this can also reduce total transportation cost and time.

Another potential use of ICT in intermodal transportation is container tracking using global positing systems (GPS) technology. The customer can get real time information of the consignments, and this can ensure security and reduce pilferages along the route. This can also enhance marketing of the transport corridor and available transportation services. Greater use of harmonized ICT for predeclaration of cargoes at border can help to improve clearance process (ECE et al., 2009). In order to effectively utilize ICT infrastructure training and capacity building of official and transport service providers would be necessary. 6. Conclusions The paper assessed the infrastructure and operational status of two important intermodal transport corridors linking North-East and Central Asia namely: Korea–China–Central Asia and Korea– China–Mongolia–Russian Federation using maritime, road and rail modes. Status and condition of intermodal transport infrastructure such as road, railway, ports, border crossing facilities as well as non-physical bottlenecks for freight transport operations are examined. It utilized time–cost-distance approach to assess and compare the performance of the intermodal transport corridors. The paper highlighted the importance of improvement of road, railway, ports and intermodal transport and logistics infrastructure and border crossing facilities. Condition of transport infrastructure, facilities and clearance process at ports and the border crossing points emerged as a significant constraint in intermodal transport operation along the corridors. The time required for border crossing and waiting time for trains at Tianjin and Lianyungang ports and transshipment at Zaamin-Uud– Erenhot and Alashankou–Dostyk borders was unpredictable. In some cases, the transportation time and cost were affected by the poor quality of infrastructure such as the existence of a single railway track, as well as lack of locomotives, containers and low operational frequency of freight trains. This indicates the need to improve the intermodal transport infrastructure and operational services in both corridors. Considering earlier studies as outlined in Section 4.3.2 reasonable target for average running speed of freight train would be 35 km/h. One of the ways of improving the corridor performance could be through eliminating inconsistency at border and streamlining the process. Benchmarking studies to set performance target would be useful in monitoring the corridor operations. International intermodal transport involves various modes of transport cooperation and coordination among countries along the corridors, related organizations within a country as

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