By Li Xinping, Lu Zehua, People’s Daily

Across the vast Eurasian continent, the tinkling of camel bells once rang along the ancient Silk Road. Today, the rumbling “steel camels” are running along tirelessly.

After 10 years of development, the China-Europe freight train service has accumulated 77,000 trips, transporting 7.31 million twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) containers of goods worth over $340 billion. It has become an important bridge for international economic and trade cooperation.

Up to now, the China-Europe freight trains connect 112 cities in China and reach over 200 cities in 25 European countries and regions, as well as over 100 cities in 11 Asian countries and regions along the route. It opens up new channels for land transportation between Asia and Europe.

At the China-Kazakhstan (Lianyungang) logistics cooperation base in east China’s Jiangsu province, cargos are transferred from freight trains to vessels, waiting to be shipped overseas.

At a cargo consolidation hub for the China-Europe freight trains in Shenyang, northeast China’s Liaoning province, cranes are hoisting containers marked “CHINA Railway” onto trains.

At the Erenhot Port in north China’s Inner Mongolia autonomous region, China-Europe freight trains stand ready to depart after inspections and load switching.

According to the data from China Railway, the China-Europe freight train service has three main corridors – western corridor, eastern corridor and middle corridor – through six border crossings. There are now 86 routes operating on a routine basis at 120 km/h, forming the network of international intermodal transport between Asia and Europe.

Ports are important nodes along the China-Europe freight train routes, where trains complete procedures such as load switching, customs declaration, customs clearance, and exit.

Over the past 10 years, countries along the China-Europe freight train routes have strengthened the capacity expansion of existing ports, opened new ports, and continuously improved international intermodal transport capabilities to meet the growing demand.

The Manzhouli railway port in northeast China’s Heilongjiang province, after going through multiple upgrades, has doubled its daily loading capacity to 840 TEUs from the number in 2020, making international intermodal transport more efficient and convenient.

According to data from China Railway, in 2022, the numbers of China-Europe freight trains passing through Alashankou, Horgos, Manzhouli, Erenhot, and Suifenhe ports reached 5,141, 3,150, 4,838, 2,549 and 884, respectively, up by 3,981, 3,080, 4,527, 2,388, and 884 compared to 2016.

Over the past decade, China-Europe freight trains have built an all-weather, high-capacity, green and low-carbon logistics channel, creating a new landscape for international transportation cooperation.

Statistics show that the China-Europe freight train service offers a cost advantage of approximately 1/5 compared to air transportation for shipping goods from China to Europe. Additionally, the transportation time is approximately 1/4 of that of sea transportation.

The service boasts high stability, and thus remains a reliable choice for meeting specific logistics needs that prioritize factors such as high value-added services and strict adherence to delivery timelines.

“Not only that, the average carbon emission of China-Europe freight trains is 1/15 of air transportation and 1/7 of road transportation. This plays a positive role in responding to global climate change and achieving sustainable transportation development,” said an executive with the freight transportation department of China Railway.

Multimodal transportation of rail-sea, rail-road, and rail-air will better unleash the efficiency of China-Europe freight trains.

According to the National Development and Reform Commission, currently there are 29 routes of China-Europe freight trains starting from coastal ports such as Dalian, Tianjin, Qingdao, and Lianyungang. Cities like Guangzhou and Chengdu have built new rail-air cross-border e-commerce export models relying on the China-Europe freight train service, promoting integrated logistics development.

The range of goods transported between China and Europe via the China-Europe freight trains continues to expand. Starting from China, the trains now carry 53 major categories of goods, expanding from mobile phones and computers initially to vehicles, mechanical equipment, electronic products, and more. From Europe to China, the categories have grown from timber, automobiles and spare parts to electromechanical products, food, and medical devices.

The China-Europe freight train service is seeing robust growth. In the first eight months of this year, 11,638 trips were made, carrying over 1.26 million TEUs of goods, up 10 percent and 23 percent respectively compared to the same period last year. With this momentum, the “steel camels” will bring even more opportunities for international economic and trade cooperation.


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