Service and infrastructure grow in China-Europe rail freight

K+N Maersk

The infrastructure and services for rail freight between China and Europe continue to develop as demand grows and the route increasingly is perceived as a viable option for large freight volumes.

DHL Global Forwarding has just announced what it calls “competence centres” designed to provide advice to customers and co-ordination of consignments by rail to China. The centres are located in Le Havre, Felixstowe and Genoa. They will market what appears to be a new service between “Xi’an in China and the intermodal hubs of Hamburg and Neuss in Germany”. DHL Global Forwarding says that the new service is a “co-operation” between itself Xi’an International Inland Port Investment & Development Group Co. Ltd in China. The service will cut transit time from “17 days to between 10 and 12 days”. The route taken is through Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus and enters Poland via Kaliningrad. This represents an interesting development of the route structure of China-Europe services.

DHL Global Forwarding is planning to use the service to develop its ‘less-than-container load’ capabilities, with the new route offering what is describes as “real-time milestone visibility, using GPS tracking of shipments via the iSee software platform to give shippers door-to-door visibility and insight into any shipping exceptions as soon as they occur”. This includes “temperature information upon request”.

The Port of Duisburg is building a new intermodal terminal also designed to serve the growing China-Europe route. The river port, which is located on a former steel works on the Rhine, is a significant intermodal location mainly designed to handle river barge traffic in and out of the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp. However, in recent years rail freight from China has grown to become a significant part of its business, with the management of the port of Duisburg claiming that; “30% of all rail-based trade between China and Europe runs through the Port of Duisburg, which is the start and end point of the China trains. Currently, between 35-40 trains per week run between ‘Duisport’ and a dozen different destinations in China”. To cope with this new traffic the port is building what it describes as a “trimodal container terminal” on the site of a former coal handling facility at Duisburg. The investment is a joint venture with the Chinese state-owned shipping company COSCO, intermodal company Hupac and HTS Group.

The future of overland rail freight between China and Europe is not certain, not least because the potential for political disruption. However, it is clear that for now, it is a route of global importance and is attracting significant investment. 

Source: Transport Intelligence, November 7, 2019

Author: Thomas Cullen