The tremendous consequences of the war for the future of grain supplies

To illustrate the dimensions: The freighter "Razoni", which was the first ship with Ukrainian grain to leave Odessa, has 26,000 tons of corn on board.

The tremendous consequences of the war for the future of grain supplies

To illustrate the dimensions: The freighter "Razoni", which was the first ship with Ukrainian grain to leave Odessa, has 26,000 tons of corn on board. 16 very long freight trains would be needed to load this ship. According to a spokesman, DB Cargo, the freight transport division of Deutsche Bahn AG, currently only runs “several freight trains a week” with Ukrainian grain.

On the one hand, this shows how much the transport capacities of seagoing vessels and freight trains differ. On the other hand, it becomes clear how difficult it is to fill the transport gaps on the often dilapidated rail routes between Ukraine and the EU that have arisen since the Russian attack and the blockade of Ukrainian ports.

But those gaps must be filled, says Federal Minister of Agriculture Cem Özdemir (Greens), because Russia cannot be expected to be reliable despite the "grain deal" for Odessa. It's about "permanent alternatives" to seagoing vessels, Özdemir told the "Rheinische Post", not about "temporary".

The Ministry of Transport under Volker Wissing (FDP) sees it similarly. According to a spokesman for Özdemir, at the request of Ukraine, he is working with the EU Commission for a conference of agriculture and transport ministers from all neighboring countries involved in exports.

The Ukrainian Minister of Agriculture Mykola Solskyj told Özdemir that four million tons of grain exports should be a month. According to the Federal Foreign Office, 2.5 million tons were brought to EU seaports in June and July. A good 20 million tons are said to be waiting for export in the Ukraine.

Trucks are too small, but shipping on the Danube can take on a larger part. But trains from the Ukraine, which because of the local broad gauge (1520 millimeters) do not fit on western standard gauge tracks (1435), have to come to her first. The railway infrastructure at the border crossings has been miserable so far. In the meantime, however, the long unused broad gauge line from Reni in Ukraine to the Romanian port of Galati on the Danube has been repaired.

Germany is also subsidizing the expansion of handling capacities at the Ukrainian-Romanian border at the Danube port of Izmail. Hopes rest on the new "East-West Gate" near Fényeslitke in eastern Hungary, a large terminal intended for shipments on China's "Silk Road" through Russia and Ukraine. Because such trains no longer come, the terminal could be used for grain handling.

But there are more problems. For example, the lack of suitable wagons for grain transport. "The fact is that there are currently not enough freight wagons in Europe prepared for these enormous, unforeseeable additional quantities," says a spokesman for the Austrian Federal Railways ÖBB, which transported 330,000 tons of Ukrainian grain with its freight transport division Rail Cargo Group (RCG) by the end of June.

The lack of rolling stock is and will remain serious, the spokesman said. "Even before the Ukraine crisis, the wagon manufacturers' capacities were fully booked for the next few years, so no significant improvement is to be expected here either."

Up until now, RCG has been driving from the Ukrainian-Slovakian border to Germany – to German ports every working day since May – and from eastern Hungary via Austria to Italy. The company wants to operate on Romanian routes from August, and the spokesman said they are "very confident that we can use Polish transhipment centers more with Ukrainian partners". These are currently being expanded. Mainly for transloading the grain.

This is necessary because changing the gauge of the wagons "only makes sense to a limited extent". When gauge changing, Ukrainian wagons are not unloaded, but their broad-gauge wheel sets are exchanged for standard-gauge wheel sets. But the latter, according to the spokesman, are “missing in Europe”.

In addition, the superstructures of the Ukrainian wagons are so wide that they do not fit through all tunnels in the EU. So it has to be reloaded. But an optimization of handling services can only be expected in the medium term. "This is mainly due to the necessary lead times, the associated technical plant material and the current delivery date situation for such capital goods."

But it might be worth taking a long breath. The EU Commission proposes including the Ukraine and Moldova in the trans-European transport network of the so-called TEN corridors. Both countries would be included in all planning for the EU transport network and thus the European economic area. Long-term investments also make sense here.

"Kick-off Politics" is WELT's daily news podcast. The most important topic analyzed by WELT editors and the dates of the day. Subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music or directly via RSS feed.

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