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China-Europe freight rail service traverses continents, history

By LUO WANGSHU in Xi'an, and Urumqi and Horgos, Xinjiang | China Daily | Updated: 2024-06-06 07:37

China-Europe freight trains wait to depart from Alataw Pass, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, on May 25. YU HUI/XINHUA

Need for speed

Innovations introduced to the organizational model, have cut the average transportation time between China and Europe by over five days since the commencement of operations, according to the China State Railway Group.

On May 25, a freight train loaded with 55 containers carrying a diverse range of goods, including LCD monitors, auto parts, clothing, and daily essentials, departed from Xi'an, marking the 90,000th China-Europe freight train service.

This train headed west, exiting China through the Horgos border port in Xinjiang, passing through Kazakhstan and Russia, and is expected to reach Malaszewicze in Poland within approximately 15 days.

Shao Boer, the general manager of Xi'an International Inland Port Multimodal Transportation, a logistics company based in Xi'an, said his company was heavily reliant on the China-Europe freight train service.

He singled out the introduction of a set-scheduled service in October 2022 for special praise. "The set-scheduled service, in my opinion, is a milestone development in the China-Europe railway service, as it signifies a transition from gradual quantitative evolution to a qualitative change," he said.

Unlike traditional freight carriers, the set-scheduled trains strictly adhere to a fixed timetable throughout the entire route, resulting in reduced transportation times and enhanced service predictability.

Shao said precise coordination involving railway operators and service providers from seven countries, including China, Russia, Belarus, and Germany, had facilitated the speed and punctuality of the set-scheduled service.

"For instance, the set-scheduled train departs from Xi'an at 3:55 am on Wednesday and Friday," he said.

"China will inform the train's arrival time in neighboring Kazakhstan, requiring the Kazakhstan railway operator to receive the train. Moving forward, the Kazakhstan railway service provider will manage the time traveling in their country to adhere to the schedule to ensure the operation is on time," he said.

The entire journey timetable is like a "freight high-speed train", he said, arriving at each city and station in each country at the scheduled times. "This is why it runs very fast," he said.

The set-scheduled service has significantly improved transit times, with a journey from Xi'an to Duisburg, Germany, now taking only 12 days.

Five scheduled services have already been initiated from Xi'an to Duisburg, and Chengdu, Sichuan province, to Lodz, Poland, reducing travel times by 30 percent compared with regular China-Europe freight train services.

"It takes only three days from Horgos border to Chengdu, Sichuan province," said Bai Hanguo, a senior staff member at the Urumqi branch of the China Railway Container Transport.

"The entire trip from Lodz, Poland to Chengdu is 11 days and eight hours, reducing the time by about three to four days compared with regular China-Europe freight train (traveling on the same route), " he said, adding that the company is working to ensure a stable supply of goods for the set-scheduled train service.

Cooperation with the Customs Department to expedite customs clearance procedures has also made the service faster.

"To improve efficiency for customs clearance, we have set up a 24-hour duty post at the station to facilitate immediate inspections upon a train's arrival, expediting the release process," said Zhao Yuanfeng from Horgos Customs.

"It means that no matter when the China-Europe train arrives at the border train station, it can be inspected immediately and released as soon as possible."

Bai said: "After the goods arrive at the departure port, no other customs clearance procedures are required. The railway department will inspect the goods and send a report to customs through a shared system. After customs verify the information, the goods can typically be released within 10 minutes."

The new model has significantly enhanced operational efficiency, ensuring goods can be swiftly processed and dispatched, ultimately contributing to the overall speed and effectiveness of the China-Europe freight train service, Bai added.

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