Conference: Rail deliveries of mining and smelting cargoes

Date: September 26–27, 2019

MAXConference held its 10th anniversary conference «Rail Deliveries of Mining and Smelting Cargoes». Despite the event’s ripe old age, the industry's problems remain as relevant as ever, interest in the subject matter persists and the number of participants has been growing.

The traditional comprehensive analytical report of the industry by our consistent analytical partner IPEM (Institute of Natural Monopolies Research) set the tone of the conference by sharing IPEM’s vision both on cargo flows and on the fleet of railcars and their repairs.

The presentations by operators and manufacturers focussed on the pressing issues related to the redistribution of freight flows in Russia from the west to the east and how the infrastructure in the Russian Far East can handle increased volumes. Speakers, in particular delegates from EVRAZ, SUEK, Russian Steel, highlighted the need to assess the way macroeconomic factors impact on the industry’s development – and, above all, slumping prices of the coal as the key cargo.

According to SUEK, priority in transporting coal should be given to innovative railcars. With the pivot to the Far East, «the routing to the ports of the Far East has not increased over the years,» the SUEK expert ranted. He proceeded to suggest that the load on transit stations should be reduced to speed up cargo flows. According to him, setting up and developing specialized terminals in the Russian Far East as well as more «technical routes» could make transportation and transshipment more efficient and advanced.

The Vostok1520 transport company acted as the voice of rolling stock operators in expressing concerns about the lack of dialogue with the Russian Railways. «We just don't know how transport in general will develop,» the company’s spokesperson said. The Russian Railways’ inadequately detailed plans on managing port throughputs and cargo flows cancels out the infrastructural investment made by consignors and operators. «What is the development programme for the Eastern operations domain?» the expert asked, calling for a resumed dialogue and more active discussions with the Russian Railways on the infrastructure development programme and cooperation with all players in the cargo transportation process.

Digitalization poses another challenge. NLMK believe it requires a very special corporate culture. Its representative speculated that most companies lack a «culture of data management». He was supported by other companies that believed implementing cutting edge technological solutions had not been easy.

Each speech raised heated discussions and questions from the audience that refused to remain silent on the issues being addressed. Criticism of the Russian Railways gave way to constructive proposals on replacing the rolling stock while shifting towards innovative railcars and articulated gondola cars akin to the United Wagon Company practices. Despite the scepticism of some companies that tend to rely on traditional gondola cars as the thing of the future, the leading railcar still favours latest technology.

A representative of one of the biggest railcar producers Altaivagonzavod said that the company considered the market to have a fairly stable structure. Platform railcars and tank cars for chemicals had been trending over recent years. He said, however, that the share of innovative railcars was falling and added that this issue ought to be addressed at the highest levels of the Russian government.

Operation and repairs of the rolling stock as well as spares availability were of particular concern to the audience. The related discussions focussed on the cost and quality of wheelsets and bearings.

The audience's response to the presentations and interest in the sector-specific issues make us looking forward to another conference next year.