Greater rail links bring opportunities to create China’s inland hub of opening-up
The first China-Central Asia freight train from Shanxi leaves Fanglue International Bonded Land Port in the city of Houma on April 14. (Photo by GUO ZHENMENG/FOR CHINA DAILY)

Loaded with 1,200 metric tons of ductile cast-iron pipes produced in Shanxi province, a freight train departed from Fanglue International Bonded Land Port in the city of Houma on April 14. It will travel to the Alataw Pass Land Port in Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region and arrive in Babatay in the Central Asian country of Kazakstan.

It marked the launch of the China-Central Asia freight train service in Shanxi and the latest addition to Shanxi’s international cargo train services following the operations of services via the China-Europe and China-Laos railway routes.

Shanxi, which has positioned itself as a new hub for opening-up in inland China, has developed the China-Europe freight train service since 2017. The Zhongding Logistics Park in the city of Jinzhong is the major hub for this trade route.

Shanxi’s freight train service toward Laos and the rest of Southeast Asia started on March 15. The bonded land port in Houma is the starting point of the route.

Since 2017, Shanxi’s freight trains have reached more than 30 cities in Europe, Central Asia and Southeast Asia. These destinations are mostly located in countries and regions involved in the Belt and Road Initiative. The initiative was proposed by China in 2013 to improve connectivity to boost international economic exchanges.

The international train services have made Shanxi a hub for opening-up in inland China and greatly contributed to promoting international business cooperation under the framework of the BRI, local officials and industry insiders said.

Developing international logistics passageways through China’s cross-border railway facilities can break the limits of the inland province to do international trade.

For this purpose, Shanxi has developed a number of land ports and logistics parks to serve international freight trains. These include Zhongding in Jinzhong and Fanglue in Houma, as well as others in the cities of Datong, Yangquan, Jiexiu and Xiaoyi.

The recently established Fanglue International Bonded Land Port covers more than 200 hectares. It is a facility mainly serving shipments of cargo containers.

According to Wei Genshang, deputy general manager of Fanglue, the land port is now one of the important international logistics hubs in Shanxi, serving freight trains connecting Southeast Asia, Central Asia and Europe as well.

“We have established extensive and close collaborations with railway operators in China, Germany, Russia and other countries for regular international freight train operations,” Wei said.

He noted that the ductile castiron pipes onboard the inaugural China-Central Asia train were made by Tianyi Casting based in the southeastern Shanxi city of Jincheng, worth more than 20 million yuan ($3.13 million).

Wei said this shipment is of great significance as the transactions were made during a critical period of COVID-19 pandemic control and prevention.

“We are happy to see that there are still great demands for Shanxi-made products in international markets, despite the pandemic,” the executive said. “So we are fully optimistic about our operations in the future and the general outlook of Shanxi’s economy.”

To date, freight trains dispatched from the city of Houma have reached destinations in more than 10 countries, through railway lines with a total length of more than 100,000 kilometers, according to Wei.

He said Fanglue is seeking close collaborations with suppliers, buyers and logistics companies in China and countries along the railway routes. He added that it is planning to make its services available at more destinations.

He cited the China-Laos railway as an example, saying that Fanglue is seeking to move more cargo to Southeast Asian countries including Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam in the near future.

Manufacturing enterprises in Shanxi are making good use of the international freight train service to export their products.

One such example is Datong Zyintex Textile Technology, which had booked a train wagon to transport its wool to Europe. About 25 tons of wool produced by the company was loaded onto a train that left for Europe on April 15. It is scheduled to arrive in Hamburg, Germany about 20 days later.

Recent dispatches from Shanxi also include automobiles, auto parts, machinery, plastics, robots and glassware.

Zhou Zhifei, deputy general manager of Zhongding Logistics Park, one of the major operators of the China-Europe freight train service, said the past few years saw not only the growing cargo-transporting volume, but also increasing varieties of exports.

He recalled that when the freight train service was launched in 2017, construction machines and castings were the major commodities for export.

“And now the exports cover almost every aspect of life and the economy, from clothes, furniture and sports gear to metals, minerals, chemicals, electronics and machines,” Zhou said. “That shows the increasing popularity of Shanxi-made commodities in global markets.”

He noted that the international freight train service is not only a facilitator of Shanxi’s foreign trade, but also a showcase for the province’s industrial strength.


Guo Yanjie contributed to this story.