Chapter 5: Chinese Railway Network – Know the Right Route to Import from China via Rail Freight
Until recently, importers of goods from China to other parts of the world were facing myriad challenges concerning the ideal mode of transport.
Like I said earlier:
Ocean freight has been the most dominant means of transport for a long time in this sector.
However, it seems like things are changing relatively fast if the railway network in China is anything to go by.
The development of railway freight in China that connects it to other parts especially, European nations in the recent past has been exceptional.
Freight train arrives in Tehran – Photo courtesy: The Financial Times
Would you imagine the feeling of getting your goods from China less than half the time it often takes when using sea freight?
That’s what this great infrastructure is bringing on board.
So in this section, we will look at some of the various elements regarding the Chinese railway network.
We will also look at the specific routes that this railway network system uses in transporting products from China to Europe and other parts of Asia.
Now let’s get straightaway and understand all these elements.
But first, we’ll look at the New Silk Road railway route to get a more in-depth understanding of what it entails.
5.1. “New Silk Road” Freight Train Route
In the recent years, the spectacular increase in the volume of intermodal traffic between China and Europe has been epic in defining rail freight in the world.
And by the way, this came as a surprise to many countries in the world.
I won’t lie to you about this:
More than 3000 cargo trains have reportedly been transported from China to various European countries including Germany, Russia, UK, Italy and Spain via this network.
The New Silk Road – Photo courtesy: The World Economic Forum
Amazingly, this is more than the last six years combined.
Undoubtedly, this is irresistible and has seen trade between these two regions expanding in multifold since its establishment.
But what necessarily does this New Silk road involves?
This is probably one of the questions regarding rail freight between China and Europe that you’ll find quite interesting.
Also known as the New Eurasian Land Bridge, New Silk Road is a modern-day overland and maritime trade linkage that is fronted by the Chinese government.
The New Eurasian Land Bridge – Photo courtesy: OBOReurope
In essence, the route links 35 Chinese cities with 15 major cities within the European continent.
And it is unquestionably the force behind the increasing rail share cargo value in the last two years.
In fact, a rough estimate by experts suggests that this Chinese-European rail network will double the trade share of this two regions in the next decade.
This is obviously good news from an economic perspective.
And, Panda is ready to help you get the most from this rail freight from China.
Back to the main point of discussion;
The Chinese Governmentis the initiator of all the routes falling under New Silk Road.
Governments of other countries have been expressing interest in being part of this initiative.
Through Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)China has successfully, managed to bind the world through the railway infrastructure, trade agreements, and various policy concerns.
And what I am sure you don’t know.
Even countries that have been reluctant in endorsing the BRI project are finally embracing these new routes.
The power of this route lies on its versatility.
All the emerging trading hubs along the path which stretches from China to Europe find healthy competition and efficiency.
This owes to the fact that it is not necessarily a single route but a connection of several interlinked corridors within the Eurasia region.
In the old Silk Road route, it was a little bit difficult to move goods via the railway when in between there’s a corridor facing political or economic upheaval.
Old Silk Road – Photo courtesy: On Trip
This new one is a bit different since even if such a corridor goes down for various reasons, other suitable routes can be of the essence.
It thus signifies efficiency and reliability of the highest order.
· Operational New Silk Road Freight Train Routes
So we’ve known that Eurasia is a continental landform consisting of both Europe and Asia.
And if you’re wondering how such a landmass can be drawn into a single immense market, then I’ve got an answer for you.
Just continue reading on.
First, this is only possible with the existence of an infrastructural network that links all the emerging trade hubs within the region.
Train from Yiwu to Britain
In a significant way, it helps in the movement of products from one point to the other.
Such that at the end of it all, efficiency and competition will be on par.
Now with Eurasia, the New Silk Road makes it possible to merge all the countries into a single massive market.
Presently, this rail network consists of three main operational corridors, which physically link China with Europe. Here is how they connect;
i. Northern Rail Corridor
This route goes to Europe through Russia.
However, more substantial part of this route tends to follow the course synonymous with the Trans-Siberian Express.
ii. Central Rail Corridor
This route, on the other hand, goes through Kazakhstan and links with the Northern rail corridor on the western part of Russia.
iii. Southern Rail Corridor
This is seemingly the longest among the three routes.
It traverses across Kazakhstan, Iran, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey before linking with European rail network.
Alternatively, you can use the Kazakhstan route to Actau and then cross the Caspian Sea using ferry before reconnecting.
It takes anything between 10.5 to 18 days for the train to get to Europe from China depending on the specific route and other prevailing factors.
The good news:
Panda, as your reliable freight forwarder in China, were are here to make this a reality.
Like I said, it’s all about ensuring efficiency and cost effectiveness when you want to ship from China via rail freight.
And, more interestingly.
This southern route is still developing thus relatively less busy, but northern and central routes are fully operational and apparently booming.
The northern and central rail corridors primarily link merely three substantive customs zones. These include:
- Eurasian Economic Union
- European Union.
It’s remarkable since the entire distance of over 9000 km only covers two border crossings.
On the other hand, the southern route albeit still taking shape, it appears more or less complicated.
As we’ve seen above, this route goes through various customs regimes before finally connecting with the rail network that links it to Europe in Turkey.
Fair enough – unexpectedly, the economic and political disruptions within southern corridor regimes are what have led to its development.
So this is how the southern corridor came to be:
During the Ukraine conflict, EU sanctioned Russia.
Russia instead chose to prohibit the importation of EU products.
Russia also banned the transportation of goods to and from EU block across her terrain.
Now, what’s the essence of the New Silk Road Train Freight?
Here is the thing:
Development of the southern route aims at ensuring that similar and any future Russian reactionary sanctions don’t affect the movement of goods between EU and China.
It is thus imperative to understand that the interest of the BRI; and broader New Silk Road route is to provide as many transportation options as possible.
Such that creation of the diverse and interconnected network would lead to a supercharged economic grid overlaid in entire Eurasia region.
That’s exactly, what Panda will offer in its rail freight services.
And not necessarily a single route which seems so easy to disrupt and subsequently affecting the movement of products.
In fact, in a simple analogy, you can merely refer to it as many different roads leading to one destination.
So basically, the idea of this train freight route is to boost the constant growth of business relations within the massive Eurasia continental landmark.
We’ve seen the impact of the New Silk Road train freight.
Now let us move to the next section and find out more details about railway shipping from China to specific destinations within Eurasia.
5.2. Railway Shipping from China to Europe
Do you know Panda offers rail freight from China to Europe?
Well, if you don’t know then mark that from today.
We have helped many customers transport goods from Yiwu, China to other destinations in Europe.
Here is a fact:
China and the EU are the world’s biggest traders.
It thus inevitably follows that goods movement between these two regions has to be active all the time.
So far, we know that China owns the most extensive railway network in the entire world.
And for that reason, many suppliers all over the country can choose to organize for railway transportation of products to their specific clients.
However, this is not in the interest of this section.
The intention here is primarily, to discuss the rail freight from China to Europe.
So keep reading and learn more.
First, as repeatedly mentioned above, China holds the most extended railway network in the world.
This starts from Yiwu International Trade City which is in Zhejiang province and connects several EU nations including, Germany, Spain, Italy, France and the UK.
And by the way, the Yiwu-London Railway Line has enhanced import and export of goods between these two countries.
Remember this one excludes the other internal secondary railway connections within the country that link it to other smaller cities.
That basically shows you that rail freight from China to Europe is somewhat one of the best alternatives especially when shipping bulky cargo.
The EU nations import different types of products from China.
In fact, once the containers reach any of the EU member states, it becomes easier to transport it within the other union member countries.
The truth is.
For the longest time possible, China to Europe corridor has been one of the most vibrant routes for rail freight.
Initially, it is the Old Silk Road network that enabled movement of products from China to European countries in the ancient times.
It was meant to link the ancient Rome and China.
The primary product that China exported to Europe during this time was Silk, thus the name “Silk Road.”
U.K. to China Railway line – Photo courtesy: Metro
However, with time, it inefficiency reduced as a result of various industrial revolutions and political commotions in different countries along the route.
Nonetheless, the present day New Silk Road is re-establishing this route albeit in different modes including:
- Sea freight
However, that is a story for another day!
The route from Yuwi to London became officially operational as of the first day of the year 2017.
It covers approximately 7500 miles.
So mainly, we have two major operational rail freight routes under New Silk Road rail freight for shipping goods from China to Europe;
The Northern Route and Central Route.
The central route passes through Kazakhstan and later links with the northern Trans-Siberian railway on the West of Russia.
Some of the notable goods the China ship to European countries using this railway line include household items, electrical and electronic devices.
Also, we have footwear, clothing, consumer goods and medical apparatus among others.
To have a better picture, let me give you some of the major cities that this route passes through to Europe.
- From Yuwi city in China, it goes to Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan. This network then goes to eastern Russia before getting to Moscow.
- It is at Moscow that both the central and the northern corridors link up. From Moscow, this railway line goes to Minsk, which is in Belarus then to Warsaw in Poland, Hamburg in Germany, Brussels in Belgium, Brest in France and then London, UK.
- Another intersection branches in Brest to Madrid, Spain. You should also note that some secondary lines of this railway interlink other cities to the main line.
Expectedly, this route provides several advantages to the businesspeople, China, Europe and the various countries the train passes through.
Some of the benefits of this railway route include the following;
- Opening up of more European markets for the Chinese products. This is arguably the fundamental advantage that this particular mode of transport brings on board.
You see, in various occasions, limited accessibility of goods and products from international markets derails business opportunities.
But once accessing the products becomes easy, the several trading factors become apparent.
- Shorter transportation of goods; for the longest time, the European market has been shipping products from China via ocean freight.
Many people label the latter as the convenient and reliable means of moving cargo from China to Europe.
However, the invention on the New Silk Road railway transport is revolutionizing this concept.
For instance, it takes between 10.5 to 18 days to ship consignments via this route.
So in general, the time has become short and ideal for non-perishable products to arrive timely.
- It is relatively affordable; when you compare transporting cargo via this route with air freight, you’ll realize that you cut considerable costs.
Of course, air is faster than rail freight, but when it’s not a matter of transporting perishable goods, this is the best route for European importers from China.
- Alternative for full or less container load; the China-Europe railway system provides the option of whether to transport full or less container loads.
It subsequently saves time and cost since unlike ocean you do not necessarily have to wait for the container to be full before you can ship it.
A fundamental disadvantage that we can say this railway route has is that it comparatively pollutes the environment compared to ocean freight.
Also, another noteworthy disadvantage of this route is that it passes through many countries.
As you know, different nations tend have different ideologies regarding various factors.
So in any event that one of the countries experience political, economic and social disruptions, transport can be paralyzed.
Nevertheless, the New Eurasian Land Bridge railway freight is arguably the best when it comes to reliability.
And, Panda can actually confirm that rail freight from China to Europe, is possible and we are part of it.
It’s only that it is unlikely to tell when a particular country can experience disastrous challenges.
Additionally, it gives you the capacity to monitor the movement of the good when in transit.
Such that you’ll know where precisely the consignment is at every moment you wish to know before receiving it.
However, like I did mention in the earlier parts of this chapter, there’s also another wing of New Silk Road railway known as a Southern corridor.
It also links China to Europe and can be used in shipping goods between these two regions.
It is still developing hence not necessarily efficient like the northern corridor.
5.3. Railway Shipping from China to Russia
China is generally a vast country and so is Russia.
A rugged-terrain nation known as Mongolia separates these two countries.
But since the two countries are relatively large, it means the distance from one point of the country to the other in another country is generally long.
Shipping of goods between China and Russia for a very long time has been through railway system.
Rail freight from China to Russia
The two countries have a strong rail network that serves various cities within them.
However, it is significant to understand that these two countries have a considerable number of railway networks linking them from various points.
But in this section, we’ll discuss the significant rail networks that are known for transporting bulk cargo from China to Russia.
This line connects China to Russia via Mongolia, no wonder the name.
It starts from Beijing in China and passes through Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia before joining the Trans-Siberian railway at Ulan-Ade, Russia.
The completion of this line was in 1961, and it is seemingly the shortest line between Beijing and Trans-Siberian Railway.
An ideal benefit of this line is that it helps in opening up trading opportunities between the two nations.
Also, it serves Mongolia, which is a landlocked nation.
Its shortcoming is that it has limited capacity owing to the fact that it is single-track.
This is another notable railway route for shipping goods from China to Russia.
Ideally, the initiative for constructing this line began in 1950’s.
Both Russia and China had to build own lines and connect them to Kazakhstan/Xinjiang border.
However, as a result of political instability in the then Soviet, construction of this line from the Chinese side stopped.
New Silk Train Route
It follows that construction of several smaller lines also took place in a bid of connecting this two countries via Kazakhstan.
This corridor is somewhat complicated owing to the fact of various line constructions that link it to other many lines.
Purposefully though, it helps in the smooth movement of cargo from China to Russia and also in serving the cities along the line.
The downside is that it passes through different border points hence causing a few delays at the customs.
It is arguably one of the most momentous rail networks that offer efficient shipping of goods from China to Russia.
I won’t explain much about it here since we covered its fundamental elements on the earlier sections of this chapter.
Rail freight from China network
But of significance is to know that it is an initiative fronted by the Chinese government.
It also has quite a number of feeder lines from various cities within China.
This line serves Russia from Lianyungang, China, uninterrupted all the way to Almaty in Kazakhstan.
It then extends to Russia to connect with the Trans-Siberian Railway which in turns goes up to Moscow.
It is a reliable line given that it is a Trans-national line.
Therefore, few cases of delay are often experienced on this railway line.
It is advantageous because it helps in easy transportation of bulk cargo from China to Russia and even to Western Europe.
However, it is relatively slow hence unsuitable for the highly perishable products.
Some of the common goods Panda ships China to Russia shipped via this rail freight route include Coal, textiles, medical apparatus, computer devices, and furniture among others.
5.4.Railway Shipping from China to Central Asia
If there’s anything that is playing a great role in expanding trade and boosting the economy of Central Asia, then it has to be rail freight from China.
Most of the Central Asian countries have been in political turmoil for a long time.
So the economies have been stagnant since no meaningful activity have been taking place, especially with their neighbours.
However, rail freight from China to Central Asia is expanding the economy in multifold.
In fact, China manufactures most of the import products within the central Asia region.
Anyway, we’ll discuss that one some other day.
For now, let’s find out the aspects regarding rail freight from China to the central Asia region.
· New Eurasian Land Bridge (Southern Corridor)
It is arguably the main corridor for transporting several goods via train from China.
For a long time, concerns for making Central Asia an economic hub have been in process.
The challenge, however, was means of transporting goods from China in bulk but the affordable way. And the conception of creating the New Silk Road rail route became alive.
The line that serves central Asia is the Southern corridor which essentially runs from Western China all the way to West Europe around Turkey via central Asian countries.
Initially, the construction of this line was limited to Almaty, Kazakhstan.
It was after an inter-governmental agreement that Lianyungang Port serve the Kazakh exports/imports needs.
However, the New Silk Road initiative saw it ideal to extend the route to and provide passage to West Europe.
So from Almaty in Kazakhstan, this southern route goes to Tashkent and Samarkand, both in Uzbekistan.
Then it extends to Tejen, Turkmenistan.
It then goes to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan and ends at Türkmenbaşy, a port town of the Caspian Sea.
But then, goods, in this case, have to be loaded and off-loaded and shipped to the border port in Georgia.
It is quite tasking and consumes time hence tends to cause delays especially for goods needed for the specified duration.
And so construction of another line from Tejan began in 1996 to pass through Iran at Serakhs and reach the Persian Gulf.
This branch stretches to Caucasus and Turkey, And in 2016, the first cargo train on this route from Yiwu to Teheran in 14 days.
Rail freight from China to Iran
This route also passes through Azerbaijan and Georgia then it connects with the European Railway Network.
So basically, this route is opening up all these central Asia corridors for better trading activities.
Normally, Panda uses this rail freight network to ship medical appliances, textiles, footwear, motor vehicle and automotive parts.
Others include furniture, plastics, computers and related devices as well as electronics and electrical appliances.
One major disadvantage of this southern line is that it is still developing hence does not have many activities.
Furthermore, it is only used on a need-basis. Such that, importers, mainly from west Europe tend to use the northern corridor wing of the New Silk Road rail network.
It also passes through different countries that have different customs border policies hence derailing movement of some items.
Or worse still:
It limits the type of goods to transport on this line since some products are never acceptable in certain countries within the range.
Besides, it is also prone to different socio-political upheavals hence can prevent movement of products from China to other countries within the region.
Thus, it is not inherently a reliable line given that it is yet to become fully operational.
However, it is ironical because even with the political conflicts that marred most of the countries it passes through, most of the governments approved it.
To a great extent, it expands the economies of the countries within the region and expanding trading activities.
So primarily, the railway network in China is one of its most significant assets when it comes to shipping of good to other countries within the region and abroad.
Several options are available regardless of the destination of the goods as long as it is within Europe and Asia.
Therefore, you only need to ensure that you get the right shipper that understands the dynamics of railway shipping from China.
They ought to know the best routes suitable at that specific time for the particular goods you’re transporting.
This way, you’ll be able to get the best results always as you ship your cargo from China.
Hopefully, though, you now have a rough idea regarding the railway routes in China to Europe, Russia, and Central Asia to possibly consider.
And I can confirm this today:
As long as you live within Europe, Central Asia and Russia, where there is rail network you can easily ship goods from China to your local town.
Like I said earlier, Panda will evaluate the situation at hand and recommend if rail freight is the best.