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Global Supply Chain News: Growth in Freight Trains from China to Europe Continues On


Volumes Expected to Double Again by 2030, Even as Congestion Hits the Rails Too



Jan. 12, 2022
SCDigest Editorial Staff

SCDigest has reported many times on the significant growth in the amount of freight transport via trains from China to multiple areas of Europe. (See Volumes for China to Europe Cargo Trains Continue to See Rapid Growth.)

Supply Chain Digest Says...


Many logistics pros expect train volumes to stay strong even after some of the delays and costs for ocean shipping recede a bit.


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The rail route is generally believed to have been pioneered by HP about a decade ago, and is a key component of China’s Belt and Road program, which seeks to use logistics infrastructure to expand its economic ties with country’s across the globe, whether that’s port development in Africa or freight trains from China to Poland.

It appears the strong growth in China to Europe freight trains has been further bolstered by the pandemic, which ultimately brought soaring costs and often long delays for both ocean and air shipments.

Chinese state media says that about 15,000 freight train trips were made between China and Europe in 2021. That is a very large number that was up 82% from the pre-pandemic level in 2019. Those trips also moved 1.46 million containers during the past year.

The train alternative to ocean or air shipping for Chinese exports has several important advantages. First it’s a lot cheaper than air, and now even less expensive than ocean carriage.

CNN reports that it currrently costs about $9400 to ship a 40-foot container from China to Europe – five times the cost before the pandemic. By comparison, the cost to make the same move via rail is now less expensive, at about $8000.

And the rail route is a lot faster than ocean shipping. Containers moving on rail between Europe and China can take as few as 20 days to get there, versus as much as 70 days via ocean carriage, given all the delays and congestion at origin and destination ports.

There are also trains carrying European exports to China on the reverse trip – for a rate of as low as $2000, helped by Chinese subsidies for using the trains.

(See More Below)






Already, estimates are that the rail route is carrying 5% of goods transported to Europe from China, a figure some expect to double by 2030. In fact, one issue is that is developing are delays impacting the trains, in part due to all the congestion on the tracks.




That congestion is exacerbated by the need to to switch containers to new rail cars twice on the trip to Europe, once at the China-Kazakhstan border and again at the Poland-Belarus border. That’s because the former Soviet countries use a different rail gauge than China and Europe, CNN reports.

Still, many logistics pros expect train volumes to stay strong even after some of the delays and costs for ocean shipping recede a bit.

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