Connecting Asia to Europe via rail

In an attempt to reduce time and cost of freight transport, the use of rail is getting a strong nod from China. This encouragement is mostly due to the growth of such interior cities as Chongqing and Chengdu. Chongqing, in particular is about 1,500 km from the closest main Chinese seaport. At the same time, other rail projects are emerging to link China, Central and Southeast Asia to Europe, the Middle East and beyond.

Recently, China and Germany announced plans to boost a rail route between the two countries. The Yuxinou train is operated by Trans Eurasia Logistics GmbH, a joint venture between Deutsche Bahn and Russian Railways. The train travels from Chongqing, China via Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, and Poland to Duisburg, Germany.

While currently transporting mostly IT and auto related goods, Trans Eurasia Logistics is also working on a service to transport temperature sensitive goods, such as medicine, on the China-Europe route.

DHL actually began offering temperature-controlled containers on its China-Europe rail service between Chengdu and its logistic hubs in the Polish cities of Lodz and Malaszewicze earlier this year.

In addition to offering temperature-controlled containers, DHL has also signed an agreement to provide rail freight services between China and Europe via a strategic partnership with United Transport and Logistics Company, a joint venture between OJSC Russian Railways, JSC National Company Kazakhstan Temir Zholy and state-owned Belarusian Railway. UTLC, which is expected to start operating later this year, will offer door-to-door delivery of containers through regular train services on the route.

Meanwhile, the Kazakhstan government expects to sign a multinational agreement later in the spring for the construction of the Silk Wind railway project with the governments of Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. This multimodal block train is expected to accelerate the delivery of goods from China to Europe with a total length of the route of 4,192 km and estimated transit time of 12 days. The route of the transport of containers will be China- Kazakhstan-Caspian Region-Caucasus-Turkey-Europe.

An alternative to sea and air transportation is certainly welcomed particularly as a less expensive alternative to air freight and shorter transit time than sea but one of the challenges highlighted by Deutsche Bahn is the ability to boost traffic in both directions – while the rail containers tend to be full heading to Europe, many return to China half-empty.