Geely AtlasRussian state-owned rail monopoly Russian Railways (RZD) has launched a block train service from China to Belarus for carmaker Geely, to serve its BelGee plant in the city of Zhodino. The plant, which is a joint venture between Geely and the Belarus government, started making cars last year.

In a pilot delivery operation, four trains with containers of automotive kits departed from Chengdu in China for Zhodino, arriving on February 18. Subsidiary division RZD Logistics said it was planning to follow those deliveries with similar block trains of parts from other Geely suppliers in China.

Vyacheslav Valenik, general director of RZD Logistics, said the company moved a wide range of goods by train but would be focusing more attention over the next few years on using rail for finished vehicles and parts, as there was increasing interest in the mode from carmakers and dealers in Russia.

“Transporting automotive kits by railway [from China to Belarus] is three times faster, as compared to delivering them by sea, and this obviously gives us an opportunity to pull some flows from existing sea routes to rail,” Valenik said. “This year, we plan to not only fulfill the agreed delivery schedule but also to proactively work on expanding the geography of deliveries of Geely’s production from China.”

In total, 50 block trains with automotive kits are slated for this year. The transit time is about 14 days, and the train is routed via the Zamyn-Uud border crossing on the border with Mongolia, then via the Naushki border crossing on the Russia-Mongolia border, and finally via the Krasnoe border crossing on the Russia-Belarus border. The kits are delivered directly to the BelGee plant thanks to connecting rail lines there.

Involving a joint investment of $330m, the BelGee plant is the biggest automotive project Belarus has seen over the past couple of decades. It is designed to produce 60,000 finished vehicles a year with localisation close to 50% and could expand production to 120,000 finished vehicles in the near future.

BelGee sold 3,700 finished vehicles in Belarus last year and 5,000 finished vehicles in Russia. In total, the joint venture plant assembled 10,000 finished vehicles in 2018, according to Gennady Svidesrky, general director of the finished vehicle assembly plant. The plan for 2019 is to double sales, at least in the Belarus market, he added.