Transportation market overview

Global container market

As the demand was recovering, 2021 became the year of alternative routes. Disruption of global supply chains amid the pandemic accompanied by overload of port terminals, vessel demurrage on the approaches to ports, failures to meet the cargo delivery schedule and deadlines resulted in unprecedented rise in rates. This stemmed, in particular, from:

  • shortage of container equipment due to imbalance in the turnover between the US and China and a feverish demand for transportation from Asia to Europe and North America;
  • the Suez Canal blocking by Ever Given container ship;
  • restrained operation of port terminals in Southern China due to temporary quarantine measures.

Key trends in 2021

Shortage of containers
Container availability index (CAx) for 40-foot containers in Shanghai
Source: Container Xchange

In early 2021, availability of container equipment considerably improved, which is reflected by CAx dynamics. At the end of 2020, the index dropped to record lows. The highest index was recorded at the beginning of Q2 2021 (0.67). The improvement was attributable to establishing the largest turnover between China and North America and partial correction of global imbalances in the container market.

Bunker fuel prices

Starting Q1 2021, the bunker fuel prices were growing YoY. In Q4, the growth rate slowed down and stabilised. The growth was driven by the commencement of the global economic recovery resulting in transportation volume comeback and, thus, increased demand for bunker fuel. The global energy crisis also affected the bunkering prices.

Bunker fuel prices
Source: Drewry Maritime Research
Freight rate growth for all destinations

2021 saw the record freight rates from Asia. The increased demand in North America driven by economic recovery resulted in shortages of equipment and vessel capacity at Asian ports. This, in turn, caused traffic jams at Los Angeles ports. In such a situation and amidst the increasing demand, container-shipping lines transferred vessels and equipment to high margin Pacific services, which intensified the shortage at other directions and contributed to higher rates. For example, the global freight index grew considerably in 2021 reaching the record values in Q3 and Q4.

Global freight index in 2021,USD
Source: Freightos

Russian container market

Despite the global crisis and reduced foreign trade turnover during lockdowns, the Russian container market grew by 12% in 2021 on the back of general containerisation of transported cargoes, focus on supply chain diversification, and moving some cargoes from traditional deep-sea services to intermodal transit routes in Russia.

Container handling

Container handling in Russian ports was stable across the basins. In 2021, the shares of the Azov-Black Sea, Arctic, and Caspian basins remained the same YoY. The share of the Far East Basin increased by 4% and the share of the Baltic Basin decreased by 3% YoY.

In 2021, container handling in key ports of the Primorye Territory continued growing: the throughput increased by 15% to 1.8 million TEU vs 1.5 million TEU in 2020. VMTP showed a growth of 13%, with its cargo throughput going up to 757 thousand TEU vs 672 thousand TEU in 2020, taking the Port’s market share to 43%.

Key trends in the Russian container transportation market in 2021:

  • continued moving of cargo flows to the Far East;
  • active development of the routes alternative to the traditional flow via the Suez Canal due to unstable global logistics in 2021. The share of the Far East basin in the container handling continued to grow, reaching 35% in 2021;
  • containerisation.

In 2021, the commodity cargo containerisation was driven by:

  • favourable pricing in foreign markets, in particular positive dynamics of rolled metal and mineral fertiliser prices;
  • increased export of some products due to the growing foreign consumer demand, for example flax seed and legumes export to China;
  • local logistics projects, such as coal export to China in open-top containers due to quarantine measures.
Basins’ shares in total container handling, %
Source: Morcenter-TFC
Container handling in major Russian container terminals in 2020–2021, k TEU
Source: Morcenter-TFC
Russian container market by type of transportation, mln TEU
Source: Russian Railways data, Morcenter-TFC


Due to consumer demand and production recovery, container import went up by 11% in 2021. The major growth was attributable to imports via the Far East ports (34%) and land border crossings (26%). The growth was mainly made up of machinery, equipment, and their parts (+22.3%, or 30.6 thousand TEU); electrical appliances (+62.6%, or 18.3 thousand TEU); ferrous metal products (+36.5%, or 11.5 thousand TEU); plastic and synthetic resin products (+25.2%, or 10.5 thousand TEU). China kept its key position in container import with an increase of 29.2%, or 166.9 thousand TEU. The share of imports in total shipments went up by 1.5 pp to 22.3%. Shortages of semiconductors resulted in limited imports of spare parts from Europe. This negative trend for land import routes continued in 2021, resulting in a decline of 6% YoY.


In 2021, the total container export growth slowed down to 9% from 12% in 2020. The ports of St Petersburg continue holding the largest share in total exports. The Baltic basin’s share declined by 4 pp, as major flows moved to land border crossings to China. The same trend is also observed in the ports of the Far East and Novorossiysk. Land export to China demonstrated the biggest growth of 20% YoY.

Domestic shipments

At the year end, the domestic shipments demonstrated negative dynamics of 2% YoY. However, in general, they grew by 9% YoY due to rail transportation. In 2021, the total cargo load of Russian Railways’ network increased by 3.2%. At the same time, the growth rate of domestic shipments also slowed down compared to 2020. Transportation of steel plates, polyethylene, and construction materials saw the highest growth in 2021.

Transit shipments

Transit shipments demonstrated the highest growth in container market – up 43% YoY, or 300 thousand TEU. The major growth was driven by Asia–Europe (+156 thousand TEU) and Asia–Central Asia routes due to increased shipments of auto parts from Korea to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

Refrigerated transportation

In 2021, the refrigerated transportation market skyrocketed. The share of refrigerated transportation by Russian Railways’ network increased by 25% to 74 thousand TEU vs 59 thousand TEU in 2020.

The segment undergoes the process of containerisation. In total refrigerated transportation volume, the share of refrigerated container transportation across the Russian Railways network grew to 28% vs 23% in 2020.

Fitting platform market

In 2021, the total fitting platform fleet used for transportation across the Russian Railways network grew by 23.7% (23 thousand railcars) to 120 thousand railcars. The number of 40-foot platforms increased by 16.6%, or 5.1 thousand railcars, the number of 60-foot platforms decreased by 0.9 thousand railcars, and the number of 80-foot platforms increased by 40%, or 18.9 thousand railcars.

The fitting platform fleet is mainly composed of 80-foot platforms, the share of which increased by 6.4 pp to 55.0% in 2021.

Considerable expansion of 80-foot fitting platform fleet was due to the growing import and transit shipments of predominantly light cargoes. However, the unprecedented interest in 80-foot fitting platforms will result in rapid saturation of the market and possible reduction of their manufacture in 2022. At the same time, the growing transportation of commodity cargo in containers, primarily coal and rolled metal, paves the way for an increase in the number of 40-foot platforms.

Fitting platform fleet performance
Source: Russian Railways’ main computer centre
Structure of the fitting platform fleet, %
Source: Russian Railways’ main computer centre