The China-Europe freight raiway serves China, Europe and the countries in between. As the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) develops this train service has become a key channel for economic cooperation between China and other countries along the BRI routes.
High value-added products are transported by the ChinaEurope freight trains such as electronic equipment, automobiles and parts. However, in the early stage of development, in order to alleviate no return load problem and share the freight costs, the return freight trains mostly transported timber back to China.
Thanks to the growth of the timber trade between China and European countries, as well as Russia and the geographical advantages of rail links; business is booming.
According to a Development Report on the China-Europe Railway Express (2021), 82 transport routes connecting 196 cities in 24 European countries have been established making an extensive network for trade.
The products transported have expanded from mobile phones, computers and other IT products in the early days to more than 50,000 varieties in 53 categories such as clothing, shoes and hats, cars and accessories, grain, wine, coffee beans and wood products.
Many cities have opened special timber trains such as Wuwei in Gansu Province, Chengdu, Rizhao in Shandong Province, Chongqing and Changsha and the timber centres that have been opened include Manzhouli, Erenhot, Alashankou and Suifenhe.
In order to transport and distribute products more efficiently some cities have invested heavily. For example, Chengdu Qingbaijiang Wood Trading Center implements a "freight train plus park" mode with Chengdu International Railways. It operates a special timber train between Russia allowing timely and effective responses to changes in the supply and demand market.
According to Suifenhe Customs data 462 China-Europe freight trains with 47,133 TEUs were handled between January and July this year, a year-on-year growth of over 70%.
According to Manzhouli Customs data there were 2,215 inbound and outbound China-Europe freight trains handled through Manzhouli port in the first half of 2022, an increase of 34% year-on-year. About 180,000 TEUs were transported, an increase of 40%.
The total value of goods was about RMB25 billion, an increase of 56%. Of the total, there were 1,239 inbound freight trains and 976 outbound freight trains.
The travel time for timber between China and Europe is about 30 days usually. Compared with sea transportation the freight train is the most time-efficient and the most cost competitive mode of transportation.