Experts recommend delivery of packages via China’s convenient high-speed rail network
Employees of China Railway Express Co Ltd prepare to load packages onto a high-speed train in Beijing, under a partnership between the company and SF Express. (Photo by chinadaily)

The delivery of parcels via China’s convenient high-speed railway network should be promoted to cater to the needs of the booming express delivery industry, a member of the country’s top political advisory body proposed at its annual meeting in Beijing this month.

State Post Bureau official Ma Xulin, who is a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference National Committee, suggested improving the parcel handling capabilities of high-speed railway stations, conducting research on equipment upgrades for parcel delivery on bullet trains, and operating more cargo services via high-speed railways.

China’s express delivery business has boomed in the past five years, with the number of parcels handled each year tripling from 2016 to 2020 and express deliveries becoming an indispensable part of daily life.

The country ranks top in the world in annual parcel deliveries. There were 83.3 billion parcels handled last year, a year-on-year increase of 31.2 percent.

Meanwhile, China’s high-speed railway network has also been expanding, with its length nearly doubling in the past five years, growing from 19,800 kilometers at the end of 2015 to 37,900 km by the end of last year.

About 95 percent of regions with a population of more than 1 million now have access to the network. Despite the rapid growth of both sectors, the number of parcels handled via the high-speed railway network accounts for less than 0.1 percent of all packages, Ma said.

Most high-speed railway stations lack areas to handle parcels, such as platforms for loading and unloading, storage areas and separate gateways to enter and exit the station, leading to many intermediate steps that extend parcel handling time, reducing the advantage of transport via the high-speed railway network, he added.

In addition, current bullet trains are mainly designed for passenger transport and their interior structure cannot facilitate rapid loading and unloading. Cargo is unable to be fastened onboard, and without appropriate equipment for loading, the system mainly relies on human labor to move cargo, which makes it inefficient, Ma said.

Since 2016, high-speed railway logistics services have been provided during China’s Singles Day shopping spree in November in response to growing demand.

China State Railway Group, the national railway operator, said that during last year’s Singles Day shopping spree, it arranged more than 600 high-speed railway routes and 1,000 bullet trains to transport e-commerce deliveries to more than 80 cities, operated Fuxing bullet cargo trains between Beijing and Wuhan, Hubei province, organized cold-chain storage deliveries and provided chartered train services to logistics and e-commerce enterprises.

In 2017, China Post and China State Railway Group signed a strategic cooperation agreement. In 2018, SF Express, a giant logistics company, cooperated with China Railway Express, a logistics enterprise of China State Railway Group, to start parcel delivery services via high-speed railways, with the services reaching more than 80 cities by last year.

China’s parcel delivery sector is expected to grow, according to the State Post Bureau.

During this year’s weeklong Spring Festival holiday in February, 660 million parcels were handled across China, a year-on-year increase of 260 percent.

The country also plans to expand its high-speed railway network, aiming to have a network extending 70,000 km by 2035.

The future of parcel delivery via the high-speed railway network is promising, Ma said.