Long distance trade between the major centers of Europe and Asia has played a major role since the antiquity. Nowadays, the trade between the two continents has increased substantially, due to the development of Asian countries, particularly China (the so called “China effect), on one hand, as well as due to the emergence of countries such as Russia on the other. Rapid changes in Global Value Chains and the emergence of Global Production Networks have manifested the growth of trade and interconnected economic relationships between these areas.
Up till now maritime transport has taken over the major share of these trade volumes, accounting to a fast growth in maritime traffic at rates of over 6% per year. High demand for maritime transport and the resulting economies of scale have helped in rationalizing freight. This monopoly however of maritime transport, causes some serious problems. One of the most important problems is the maritime traffic congestion that is observed between the major maritime hubs creating also severe environmental issues due to the potential for accidents.
Based on the above, the shift, of at least part of the trade volume, to the land EU-Asian corridors is now more than ever before essential, revealing new and significant opportunities for all modes of transport and particularly for the railways. More specifically, when it comes to long distance land routes going through Asia and Europe, the railways, as well as the inland waterways find themselves in a very advantageous position due to the fact that they meet transit needs and accessibility requirements for the countries along the way in a more efficient manner, despite any missing links that need to be developed. The most important of these land routes are:
- The Trans-Siberian route that connects the Russian Pacific Ports of Vladivostok Nakhodka with Moscow;
- The so-called TRACECA Corridor (TRAnsport Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Asia) which offers a number of itineraries along the once called Silk Road and
- The trans-Asian railway route through Turkey and Iran.
In line with the above the aim of the proposed NEAR2 project will be to engage all the interested parties, countries and stakeholders but most importantly the rail research community in a cooperation aiming to promote railway transport, creating this way a notable alternative to maritime or even air transport.