Connecting to the future of intermodal rail from Asia to Europe and back

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Maersk’s AE19 eastbound rail service is less than three months old, but it has already done more than just connect the Atlantic and Pacific, moving freight overland between the Baltic seaport of St. Petersburg and the eastern port of Vostochny — a continent-spanning journey across Russia’s Trans-Siberian Railway. This innovative service is truly complementary to Maersk’s core ocean carrier business, and a recent highlight of its joint TradeLens project with IBM.

TradeLens provides the AE19 customer base with shipping data direct from the source of each participating entity in near real-time, all while connecting this rail corridor directly to its established ecosystem of international transportation service providers. Overall transit time of the eastbound AE19 is half the expected 52-57 days of a traditional ocean route. Shipments are arriving from ports in North Europe to ports in Korea or Japan in just 23-32 days, at significantly lower cost than airfreight. The same benefits are found on the westbound route.

The intermodal service operates as a standard product with a Maersk bill of lading (BL) for either refrigerated or dry containers, augmented by TradeLens platform’s ability to improve data integrity and provide end-to-end visibility for its clients’ cargo. But it's not just an exciting project for Maersk, TradeLens, IBM, their partners and their clients, it’s also enjoying a lot of attention geopolitically, because of China's One Belt, One Road westbound initiative, what’s being called the new Silk Road.

New services can be daunting to well-established shipping concerns, particularly a rail product spanning over 10,000 kilometers across Russia. But at heart TradeLens is a digital platform for managing sprawling sets of shipping data, mitigating the risks of an untried logistics solution with its granular level of tracking visibility, direct from the source at the terminals, rail yards and waypoints dotting this massive overland journey. It illuminates the AE19 for beneficial cargo owners (BCOs), forwarders and other shipping interests, collecting intercontinental rail data that has previously been much more disparate and incomplete.

TradeLens gives the AE19 truly granular, end-to-end visibility

As a model for what TradeLens can do, the AE19 is interesting not only because the route is one of the more complex logistics journeys available with the potential for many different modes of transport and handover points, but because it is also one of the ecosystems that the platform has already connected with high maturity.

At least three different companies are involved in the rail journey, beyond TradeLens and the actual shipping and logistics clients employing the route: Maersk; Global Ports, a container handling company that operates port terminals in St. Petersburg and Vostochny; and Modul, a Russian 3PL responsible for operating the train cars along the Trans-Siberian Railway. Through TradeLens these individual actors form a completely connected ecosystem. Each entity is uploading their data, shipping events, updates, departures, arrivals, the current location of the train in transit, directly onto the platform themselves, providing high quality visibility.

Accuracy and reliability are only some of the desirable qualities of this data however, as the platform also offers granularity to go along with this improved data visibility. Across the rail leg, waypoint events are delivered to TradeLens from Modul on a daily basis, continuously reporting the current location of a train or container. Waypoints are of particular interest to clients desiring greater visibility on their container’s location. They provide an early signal to BCOs, forwarders and other stakeholders whenever their cargo might be experiencing delays or more serious disruptions.

In addition to live rail events, TradeLens also receives event data from the various ports on both sides of this international journey — not just terminal but customs data in most cases — which is valuable information to clients. This expansiveness of visibility, the fact that any preceding and subsequent carriage events by ocean vessels would also be captured, means that TradeLens has effectively connected all of these logistics partners.

One example of an event flagged by the system is the “packed transport equipment not selected for inspection” provided by the logistics IT leader KL-Net. It’s a customs event informing the client that their container does not have to go through x-ray scanning, or otherwise be physically opened for sampling or inspection. This valuable data is live on TradeLens right now.

TradeLens solutions can transfer Maersk AE19 innovations to any railway

Maersk intercontinental rail line is working to find other locations in western Europe, routes that can be plugged into the AE19. For example connecting them to Duisburg, Germany — considered China’s gateway to Europe — and other major hubs. Much of what TradeLens has done with Global Ports is create code that can be redeployed at other prominent terminals. So that will continue to really help scale the platform up and boost wider connectivity. The same is true for Modul’s onboarding into TradeLens’ digital ecosystem, a process that took less than two weeks thanks to the platform’s current partnerships with freight forwarders.

This is the flexibility TradeLens offers through its highly replicable software solutions built on Open APIs from projects like the AE19 and other future rail-to-port-to-vessel systems.

As sourcing patterns change and the potential need for alternate modes of containerized transportation occur, TradeLens can deliver a complete and fully integrated source for visibility without shippers or freight forwarders having to establish new connections for that visibility.

It’s all already there on TradeLens.

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