China-Europe rail freight surges as virus grounds airlines

The number of freight trains running between China and Europe leapt 72% in the first five months of 2020 compared with the same period last year, according to figures from the China Railway Shanghai Group.

Since January, some 200 trains have set off from the trading centre of Yiwu in Zhejiang province, eastern China, carrying 16,672 twenty-foot-equivalent containers to 36 countries in Europe, reports state news agency Xinhua. 

A train from Yiwu takes about 12 days to reach Warsaw and 15 days to reach Hamburg.

The 13,000km link has been a beneficiary of the coronavirus pandemic, which has shut down air freight and severely affected seaborne cargoes.

It has also been used to transport anti-virus equipment. From 21 March to the end of April, about 660,000 items were sent to countries such as Italy, Germany, Spain and the Czech Republic.

The train has become the main means of sending postal deliveries between China and Europe. Since the coronavirus shut down the airline industry, six "postal trains" have made the trip, and have so far carried about 2,100 tonnes of mail.

From Yiwu, trains go to Lithuania, from where the deliveries are distributed across Europe.

Shang Chunyan, a staff member with Yiwu’s customs authority, which organised the trains, commented: "The China-Europe freight train service has obvious logistical advantages in terms of relatively stable logistical costs and transportation time amid the epidemic."

The operator sent 19 trains in the last week of May, and plans to send around three a day during June. It is expected that around 1,000 trips will be made over the course of 2020.

Image: One of the sturdy diesel locomotives plying the trans-Asia run (Brunel Shipping)

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