Nippon Express to launch regular rail-freight service to Europe

Japanese logistics company Nippon Express will start running freight trains between China and Europe as China’s Belt and Road infrastructure improves communications between the eastern and western ends of the Eurasian landmass.

The company plans to begin chartering whole trains in February, beginning with one or two round trips a month. If these are successful, Nippon will make the shipments weekly.

The trains will be provided by Chinese rail companies, and will link cities in China’s interior, such as Chongqing and Xian, to Europe. Being inland, these cities have most to gain from a land route to Europe.

Nippon will track the goods using GPS and monitor ambient temperatures en route.

According to the Nikkei Asian Review, the move is in response to increasing volumes of goods moving between the two zones.

Goods such as auto parts, LCD panels and machinery move from Asia to Europe, while auto parts and electronic components travel in the other direction. Shipments of e-commerce orders such as wine and baby formula are also on the rise.

Nippon is exploring future collaboration with Chinese logistics companies, and will work with a state-owned railway provider in Kazakhstan.

There is a geopolitical dimension to the planned service. China and Japan are presently looking for ways to collaborate rather than compete in the infrastructure development field, and the growth in trans-Asian trade is being spurred by the commercial cold war against China launched by the Trump administration.  

Meanwhile, overland infrastructure improvements have brought east and west closer together. The time required to cover the 8,140km between Chongqing and Duisburg in Germany has fallen from 37 days in 2006 to 16 in 2017, according to a report this year by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Around 35 Chinese cities now have rail links with 34 European cities, CSIS found, and rail’s share of cargo by value grew 144% in the first half of 2017, compared with the same period in 2016.

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

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