Seven years ago, companies in the inland city of Zhengzhou, capital of Henan province, either had to send products to nearby coastal ports to be shipped, or reserve space on expensive air cargo flights if they wanted to export to Europe.
Now, new rail freight services have become the favored option, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, as global shipping capacity and air traffic have been greatly reduced, according to Kang Yan, deputy general manager of Zhengzhou International Hub Development and Construction Co.
The freight train service from Zhengzhou to Europe was launched in 2013, with one journey a month made to the northern port city of Hamburg, Germany. In recent years, services between Zhengzhou and Europe have grown rapidly, with some 120 trips made on average each month.
Three main European routes operate from Zhengzhou－to Hamburg and Munich in Germany, and Liege in Belgium.
A total of 13 logistics centers have been established by Zhengzhou International Hub Development and Construction Co in countries including France, Italy, Poland and Hungary. The centers will help distribute goods transported by rail to Hamburg, Munich and Liege throughout the European Union, using other modes of transportation.
Zhengzhou also operates rail freight routes to Moscow, the Russian capital, Almaty in Kazakhstan, Tashkent, capital of Uzbekistan, and the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi.
Kang said it takes more than 25 days to transport goods from Zhengzhou to Europe by sea, and seven days by air, so rail freight, which takes 14 to 16 days, is the ideal intermediate option.
“Since freight train services to Europe started to operate from Zhengzhou, many clients in different industries have arranged their production cycles and sales plans according to the rail timetable,” Kang said.
He added that only high-value and seasonal products were sent to Europe by rail initially.
“However, with freight train charges falling gradually, more goods, such as mechanical equipment, auto parts and furniture, have been transported by rail,” Kang said. He added that every week, 12 to 13 trains leave Zhengzhou for Europe, and eight to 12 trains travel to the city from the continent.
In the first seven months of this year, nearly 405,000 items of medical supplies weighing a total of 2,663 tons were sent by rail to Europe from Zhengzhou to help fight the pandemic. Some 99 percent of the supplies came from China.
Kang said that as an important Belt and Road Initiative project, China-Europe freight trains have brought great opportunities to inland cities and boosted their economic development.
“They have made inland cities such as Zhengzhou ports of entry and exit and greatly improved logistics services, helping local companies become better involved in the global market and industrial supply chain, and bringing overseas companies closer to the Chinese market,” Kang added.
“As these services strengthen Zhengzhou’s position as an international transportation and logistics hub, more industries are moving into the city.”
The pandemic has not been fully controlled globally, so shipping and air transportation services will face obstacles on the road to recovery. As a result, rail freight will continue to be the preferred choice of transportation between China and Europe, Kang said.
“Before the pandemic, rail freight services had already seen rapid growth. A stable performance during the outbreak has increased market confidence in this form of transportation, and it will play a bigger role in boosting local economic development as well as China-Europe trade,” he said.