With international trains and flights suspended since January 22, the company could not receive the 60,000 cans of infant milk formulas it had ordered from Australia and Europe. “I was drowning in phone calls from young parents, demanding me to deliver their orders as soon as possible,” the company’s general manager Yang Zihang told China Today. The past Spring Festival holiday was pretty tense for him.
“I have canker sores all over my mouth,” he said.
Yang’s company is a cross-border e-commerce platform, which mainly imports milk powder, health care products, and cosmetics. In the wake of the novel coronavirus outbreak, the company had a total of 100,000 cans of infant formulas stranded overseas.
Things began to change for good on February 3. With the help of the operation center of Chengdu International Railway Port Investment & Development (Group) Co., Ltd. (CIPI) in Poland’s terminal city Malaszewicze, the e-commerce company’s products got a ride on the freight trains in Nuremberg of Germany and Lodz of Poland. Two days later, 30,000 cans of milk powder left Germany for Chengdu.
On February 20, they arrived at the Qingbaijiang International Railway Port in Chengdu. “Another some 100,000 cans will arrive later,” said Yang. At a critical moment, it was the assistance of CIPI that helped him and the company weather the crisis.
Affected by the epidemic, the China-Europe freight trains operating in some regions of China stopped or reduced services. However, with the resumption of production in various places, the trains soon started operations, serving as a corridor to connect Chinese consumers with European goods and vice versa.
Increasing Service Volume
Zhao Xiaofang runs a leather shoes manufacturing plant in Chengdu. Orders of her factory mainly come from European countries. “In order to save transportation costs, 80 percent of the exported products are transported via road and sea routes,” Zhao said, adding that during the past Spring Festival holiday, shipment was delayed as many places restricted transportation to curb the spread of the virus. Wang Ping, who helped her transport shoes to Russia by the China-Europe freight train, came to her mind as she was desperate to find a way out. She called him and got unexpectedly exciting news.
“I tailor-made a plan for her and offered her a speedy and cost-effective logistic solution with the freight train,” said Wang, who runs a freight company based on the China-Europe freight trains. Zhao found his offer a good deal and decided to deliver some 400 containers of shoes throughout the year to foreign customers via the rail service.
Businesses like Zhao’s pushed up the orders of freight services on the China-Europe freight trains. According to CIPI, the China-Europe freight trains have been receiving more orders since the beginning of 2020 compared with the same period of last year. More than 200 trains carrying over 140,000 tons of cargoes including electronics, automobiles, apparel and timbers had left Chengdu for European terminals since the beginning of 2020, it said, noting the figure was 80 percent up year on year.
“On the one hand, because some customers who used to transport by air, sea, and road have encountered some obstacles during the present epidemic, they have switched to railway transportation. On the other hand, due to the smooth operation of trains, some manufacturers of electronic products have chosen rail freight services. These are contributing factors for the increase of orders,” said Li Chengyuan, a manager with CIPI.
According to Li, trains from Chengdu, like other cities, were more or less affected by the outbreak of the coronavirus. “If it had not been for the epidemic, the growth rate may have reached 90 percent or even higher over the same period,” Li said.
According to him, the company took immediate precautions including following the epidemic control measures rolled out by countries along the China-Europe railway to counter the epidemic fallout and ensure smooth operation of the train services.
CIPI also cooperated with enterprises in the European Union to deliver shipments of cargoes to customers across the continent after they were transported to Malaszewicze. “We prepare cargoes in advance for round trips, improving the efficiency and curtailing transportation costs,” said Li.
In addition, freight trains from Changsha in central China’s Hunan Province to Europe also witnessed a business boom in January and February, a 143-percent surge from the same period of the previous year.
Best Choice during Special Times
On the evening of February 26, a freight train, fully loaded with computers, LCD screens, and washing machines, departed from Chengdu and headed for Tilburg, the Netherlands. During the 13-day journey, it stopped at stations in Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, and Germany.
“Together with the 31 containers we sent days ago, we have put a total of 47 containers of computers on the train since the coronavirus outbreak. The China-Europe freight train has become a good choice for our transportation,” said Fu Wenbin, a senior director supervising the supply chain at the Chinese leading computer maker Lenovo Group.
Thanks to the emergency dispatch service by CIPI, Fu found a logistic solution during the epidemic when transportation was restricted, and managed to ship two batches of finished computers to Tilburg, the Netherlands. Commenting on this, Fu said, “To a large extent, the difficulty in the company’s international transportation during the epidemic has been solved.”
According to Fu, in the past, Lenovo Group’s goods were usually shipped by sea, but after the outbreak, one-third of the goods were sent to Europe via the China-Europe freight trains in Chengdu. “First of all, costs have been greatly cut. Air transportation will cost at least three times higher than rail transportation,” Fu said. The ability of the company to deliver goods on time during the epidemic is of vital importance to the company’s credibility, and will boost customer confidence in and satisfaction with the company. “Two successful shipments via the China-Europe freight trains have proved that our choice is correct,” Fu said.
Ma Hongying, director of the department for international cooperation of China State Railway Group Co., Ltd. (China Railway), said that as of February 19, the volume of imports and exports via international railway combined transport had reached 8.67 million tons, an increase of 8.1 percent year on year. A total of 83,000 TEU of goods, 1.5 percent up year on year, were transported by the China-Europe freight trains.
The railway line has the unique advantages of fast timelines, no weather restrictions, and transportation by section, according to Ma. “Maintaining the stable operation of China-Europe freight trains is of great significance for ensuring the smooth flow of international logistics and stabilizing the Chinese economy, especially foreign trade,” Ma said.
In addition, according to Zeng Yi, an official with local administration for the international railway port in Chengdu, during the epidemic, China-Europe freight trains also shipped a large number of overseas donations to anti-epidemic frontline in time. “We fast-tracked the shipments and exempted them from freight charges,” Zeng said.
As the spread of the epidemic in China has gradually been brought under control, the suspended China-Europe freight trains have begun to resume their services. “About 90 percent were resumed,” said Ma Hongying.
On February 10, a train carrying 86 TEU of cargo departed from China’s small commodities hub Yiwu and headed for Minsk, Belarus. On February 13, another one with a full load of 82 TEU set off from Jinhua of China to Kyrgyzstan. Since mid-February, all China-Europe freight trains across the nation including those from Xuzhou, Zhengzhou, Nanjing, Daqing, Taiyuan, and Erenhot have resumed normal operations.
According to Ma, during the epidemic period, in order to ensure the normal and safe operation of the China-Europe freight trains, China Railway, which is in charge of the general dispatch of Chinese trains running on the China-Europe railway line, adopted flexible transportation and handover methods, and adjusted operating procedures in response to epidemic prevention and control requirements in some countries.
The company also provided full support in terms of locomotives, loading and unloading tools, as well as manpower, Ma said. China Railway also made full use of the coordination mechanism with foreign railway authorities and freight companies to mitigate fallout of the epidemic, Ma said, adding efforts to improve custom clearance efficiency in coordination with custom and border check authorities.
In order to further promote the development of China-Europe freight services, on February 24, China’s General Administration of Customs issued measures to promote economic and trade exchanges between countries along the railway line.
In fact, long before the measures were put in place, custom authorities in Chengdu and other places had already put the handling of custom procedures online to improve efficiency.
“In special times, we work in synergy with various sectors and draw up support from local authorities to make sure that every China-Europe freight train departs safely and each shipment of goods arrives at its destination smoothly,” said Li Chengyuan with CIPI.