Ti Dashboard reveals China’s rail freight volumes remained stable despite the pandemic

To say that the Coronavirus pandemic has caused significant disruption for the logistics market this year feels somewhat of an understatement. The end still seems a long way off as parts of Europe enter into a second lockdown. However, fortunately not everything this year has come to a complete standstill. Intermodal transport, for example, has remained reasonably stable despite the pandemic.

The graph below illustrates the total volume turnover for rail freight in China.


China: Rail Freight Volumes


China Rail Freight











Source: National Bureau of Statistics China/ Ti Dashboard


The ‘China: Rail Freight Volumes’ graph is sourced from National Bureau of Statistics China and measures the total monthly ton-km volume of all rail freight in China.

The graph demonstrates that despite the Coronavirus pandemic, the general trend in rail freight volumes in China has overall followed a similar pattern to previous years. However, there was a notable drop in volumes in April 2020, exports took a hit due to a fall in demand as many European countries experienced their first full month in lockdown. In April, volumes totalled 2,138.11m ton-km, down 10.2% year-on-year.

The five months following April 2020, experienced more sustained growth in rail volumes. In previous years, the graph demonstrates that volumes between March and September are slightly erratic while in 2020 the increase in volumes appears to be more consistent. With air freight still predominately grounded due to the significant reduction in passenger freight, rail freight benefitted from transporting goods that would usually be destined for air freight. The New Silk Road, in particular, benefitted from the shift towards intermodal transport. During the pandemic, the route delivered 40m medical masks, gloves, gel dispensers and PPE equipment to France.

LSPs in various markets have attempted to capitalise on this opportunity. This is the case, for example, of Maersk has managing a Westbound rail freight service from Asia to Europe which takes between 28 and 32 days for completion, almost half of the time compared to traditional sea routes.

The most recent data captured by the Ti Dashboard is for September 2020. In September, rail freight volumes in China totalled 2,644.36m ton-km, up 3.4% year-on-year. Rail volumes typically experience an annual increase between July and September as businesses prepare for the peak season, ordering goods in advance to ensure enough stock arrives in time for the build-up to the festive period. Rail volumes also benefit from the increase in shipping rates during the peak season as shippers look for cheaper alternatives to ship their goods. 

The Ti Dashboard has captured data that shows how volumes have been affected by the Coronavirus pandemic for the first nine months of 2020. It is interesting to see that despite the amount of disruption the pandemic has had on the economy, global travel and the logistics market, Chinese rail freight volumes have remained relatively stable. Arguably, this is a good time for rail freight operators to market themselves based on their work during the pandemic to try and capture volumes and compete with other traditional modes of transport.

Source: Transport Intelligence, November 05, 2020.

Author: Beth Poole

The Ti Dashboard is a collection of global and regional transportation, trade and economic data, which includes key metrics regarding the air freight and forwarding markets. The Ti Dashboard provides the facts you need in one easy to use source, saving you time, with insight and analysis from industry experts that enable you to make informed decisions. For more information, click here.