Feature: China-Europe freight trains bring vitality to ancient Silk Road

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Since "YUXIN'OU" (Chongqing-Xinjiang-Europe) railway line came into use in 2011, China-Europe freight train services, with a growing number of trans-continental railway lines and increasing cargo volume, have become important to the ancient Silk Road.

According to industry experts, China-Europe freight train services have been providing solutions for the international logistics industry and promoting international trade ties and economic development with countries along the Silk Road.


Recently, DIT Intermodal Terminal located in Duisburg, Germany is facing challenges. Usually, it takes two or three days for the freight to be transported to the next location. As the Belt and Road Initiative has developed in recent years, the largest container intermodal terminal in Duisburg is now reaching its capacity limit with the growing need of Eurasian Railway logistic services.

"More trains are coming from China," said Michael Suessmuth, sales manager at DIT Intermodal Terminal. Behind him, containers bearing the logo "CRExpress" (China Railway Express) are piled three or four layers deep.

DIT Intermodal Terminal is the largest one among the nine terminals in Duisburg, serving as a main distribution center of containers for local railway transportation. Since 2011, the number of scheduled freight trains from China arriving at this terminal has increased from one to eight trains per week. It is also from here that all the products coming from China are distributed by road, railway, or water to other European destinations.

At present, goods such as car parts, IT products and clothing are transported by China-Europe freight trains to Europe, while returning to China with European products such as mechanical equipment and food products.

According to Chen Si, Rail Eurasia-China desk manager of Hellmann Worldwide Logistics, the freight train transport between China and Europe takes about 14 days, shaving off two-thirds of the time it takes to ship by sea and four-fifths of the cost of shipping by air.

"From 2014 to 2015, the amount of containers transported by Hellmann through China-Europe freight trains had increased by 430 percent," said Chen. Over the past six years, the personnel in charge of China-Europe freight train service in Hellmann has also been expanded by three times into a unified operation body in Asia, former CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) regions and Europe.


The railway transport between China and Europe before 2011 was not as convenient as it is today. Chen said a one-way trip between China and Europe used to take 40 days, owing to incomplete railway lines and inadequate goods volume.

FELB (Far East Land Bridge Ltd.) started its business in railway lines between China and Europe in 2007. FELB business development manager Shan Jing said the railway transport system had not been organized until the China-Europe freight train service project.

Now, the trans-continental trains operated by FELB depart mainly from Shenyang, Suzhou, Changsha, leaving China by way of Manchuria. Every week, three or four trains arrive in European cities such as Warsaw, Duisburg and Hamburg.

Shan said the China-Europe freight train service also provides a convenient means for other Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea by carrying their goods to Europe. Meanwhile, FELB is developing transport routes within Europe in order to include Italy into the operational network of the Eurasian train service.

Now, railway lines for container trains have been successively opened up by 16 cities in China, heading down to 12 European cities including Duisburg, Hamburg in Germany, and Madrid in Spain. In 2015, China-Europe freight trains made 815 trips, with a year-on-year increase of 165 percent.

According to Thomas Kowalski, director of operations in multimodal transport of Deutsche Post DHL Group, the railway route connecting China and Europe expanded DHL's business. "It opens up new opportunities for DHL in the Asian-Pacific region," he said.

The freight volume of Eurasian railway lines has steadily increased since its operation. It is estimated that the volume will exceed 1 million standard containers by 2030, according to Kowalski.


What remains a challenge for Eurasian freight service is that on the return trip eastward the loads are partially empty or even empty. However, the situation is being improved: 265 returning trains, taking up 48 percent of departing trains, have transported goods back to China in 2015, indicating a marked increase compared with 28 trains in 2014.

Kowalski said such phenomenon is rooted in the trade imbalance between China and Europe.

He said empty containers could be prevented through carrying products from neighboring areas of Europe such as Russia and Kazakhstan. Measures should be taken to strengthen logistics coordination within Europe and ensuring effective customs clearance of China-Europe freight trains.

Shan said that thanks to the Belt and Road Initiative, countries along the Eurasian railway line will promote the transport capacity of Eurasian freight trains through improving railway infrastructure. AIIB (Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank) is playing a role in this regard.

Moreover, marketing the Eurasian cargo train service should be further promoted by setting up more offices in Europe. "Now more and more people get to know Eurasian freight trains. But it is still a newcomer on the market," he said.

"Introducing Eurasian freight trains more actively and understanding customers' needs better would be helpful for expanding market and increasing cargo volume on the way back."

Chen said the overseas operation of China-Europe freight trains was in urgent need of logistics professionals with expertise in information-based logistics management systems and effective allocation of transport resources, which would strengthen cooperation among cargo trains and increase full-load ratio.

She said a calling center of Eurasian trains could be set up in Europe to provide customers with greater convenience. "Eurasian freight trains should be made known in the first place and our service should be accessible anytime when customers are in need." Endit

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