China-Europe freight trains pick up steam amid pandemic

Sounding a long whistle, a train carrying 50 containers of goods including electronic devices and clothes as well as anti-virus supplies left Xiamen in eastern China for Hamburg, Germany.

Initiated in 2011, the China-Europe rail service is considered a significant part of the Belt and Road Initiative to boost trade between China and countries along the routes. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the service remained a reliable transportation channel.

“We missed the scheduled date to deliver goods by sea due to COVID-19. Thanks to the stable operation of China-Europe cargo trains, our goods arrived in Europe on time,” said Wang Weidi, manager of the logistics department of TPV Display Technology (Xiamen) Co., Ltd.

The company had exported a total of 483 TEUs (20-foot equivalent units) of electronic products through the cargo train service in the first quarter this year, up 19.6 percent year on year, according to Wang.

In the first three months of 2020, a total of 67 China-Europe cargo trains had departed Xiamen in Fujian Province, transporting 6,106 TEUs of goods, up 160 percent year on year, according to the China Railway Nanchang Group Co. Ltd.

Zhong Lei, business manager of the Xiamen International Railway Service. Co., Ltd., said the company had increased the weekly number of China-Europe freight trains in operation from four to seven to meet the customers’ needs since March.

Nationwide, the China-Europe freight trains made a total of 1,941 trips and transported 174,000 TEUs of freight in the first quarter of this year, up 15 percent and 18 percent year on year, respectively, data from the China State Railway Group Co., Ltd. showed.

The spread of COVID-19 has incurred global traffic restrictions. Under the circumstances that transportation is restricted at harbors and airports, China-Europe freight trains have carried anti-epidemic supplies such as masks, protective suits and ventilators to European countries.

From the first train carrying epidemic control supplies departing on March 21 to the end of March, China-Europe freight trains sent 333,800 pieces of supplies totaling 494 tonnes to Europe. Most of the trips were bound to Italy, Germany, Spain, Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and the Netherlands.

In early April, the Ministry of Commerce issued a circular encouraging better use of China-Europe freight trains to promote trade and consumption.

Ding Changfa, an economist of the Xiamen University, said China-Europe freight trains rumble across many countries as they have limited influence from the pandemic thanks to their segmented transport model and contactless services.

He believes that China-Europe freight trains will have great potential in the post-epidemic economic recovery, both driven by the global demands and China’s accelerated domestic work resumption.