A Railway Connecting China and Europe

By staff reporter ZHANG HONG

THE Chongqing-Xinjiang-Europe International Railway, a 10,000-km-plus rail route stretching from Chongqing in southwestern China to Duisburg, Germany has brought China and Europe closer together.

At present, the railway is operating both ways, continuously transporting China’s IT products, automobiles, motorcycles, mechanized equipment, and food to Europe, and carrying European automobiles and vehicle parts, medical facilities, daily necessities, metal, and manufactured goods to China, making expensive and slow sea freight a thing of the past.


More Open

Starting from Chongqing, via Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, and Poland the whole journey to Duisburg takes 13 days. The railway has become a major artery for construction of the Silk Road Economic Belt. Along with the ever-increasing quantity and variety of import and export commodities, the railway is gaining recognition in China and other countries along the line.  

The Chongqing-Xinjiang-Europe International Railway was launched in March 2011. As of the end of 2014, a total of 233 customized trains had traveled along the route, with the value of imports and exports transported totaling US $6.8 billion.

“Cheaper than air cargo and faster than sea freight” is the hallmark of this rail line. “The railway has fast-tracked Chongqing’s export sales to European countries,” said He Shizhong, vice chairman of the Chongqing Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

“In the past, maritime transportation via the Yangtze River was both time-consuming and labor-consuming. Now, the railway saves a great deal of time, which means saving costs,” said He. The railroad not only brings benefits to Chongqing, but also stimulates export sales of other areas in the upper and middle reaches of the Yangtze River.

Eighty percent of entrepôt trade via the Alataw Pass comes from the Chongqing-Xinjiang-Europe International Railway. According to He, the railway has hugely promoted Chongqing’s degree of openness and influence. 

This year the railway will send some 260 special trains, with a volume of freight worth US $10 billion. The rail route has great potential to achieve China’s dream of the Belt and Road Initiatives.  

“This railway largely overlaps the ancient Silk Road, and so has huge strategic importance. It enables Chongqing to better participate in the Belt and Road Initiatives, which are also an impetus for the development of the country’s western provinces.”


Innovation and Cooperation

In September 2011, countries along the route convened a meeting in Chongqing and unanimously agreed to establish a company to coordinate and organize its transportation management, binding the common interests of countries along the line. Jointly contributed by China, Russia, Germany, and Kazakhstan, Yuxinou Logistics Co., Ltd was officially launched in April 2012. 

Because of the extent of the journey, which crosses various terrains and climates, companies that manufacture products that are sensitive to temperature changes, such as electronics, faced a particular challenge. Therefore, international corporations like HP, BASF, and Honeywell, and scientific research institutions such as Chongqing University, Sichuan University, and Southwest Jiaotong University have jointly researched several solutions to thermally insulate the freight. After field tests, they adopted a 15-cm-thick, made-to-order thermal insulation material to protect cargo.

The Chongqing-Xinjiang-Europe trains have adopted container satellite locating and tracking systems to guarantee cargo safety. Alarms will be triggered by any aberration in doors opening or closing in certain carriages. Meanwhile, these systems can fully record every train’s information such as longitude and latitude, temperature, and speed, giving accurate and timely feedback to controllers.  

“No parcels” has been an inexorable law of international railway traffic for the past 50 years. Parcels, as personal belongings, vary widely in content, size, and packaging, which presents a problem for customs supervision. According to the Agreement Concerning International Carriage of Goods by Rail, parcels are regarded as prohibited articles.   

But in 2014, Chongqing launched a number of test runs to carry international parcels via the Chongqing-Xinjiang-Europe International Railway, changing the rule of the parcel embargo.

In order to satisfy its transport capacity, Chongqing is also applying to the Silk Road Fund to fund infrastructure construction, increase railway investment in Northwest China and Kazakhstan, and enhance research and development of double-deck containers, high-speed freight trains, and track-switching technology.


Accelerating Trade Contacts

To keep up with the deepening Sino-European trade, China has inaugurated nine fast cargo rail routes to European countries, such as the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, and Spain. The Chongqing-Xinjiang-Europe International Railway was the first among them. 

“One customs clearance, one application and one check make for unimpeded transportation. Cargo examined in China will not be re-checked in other countries,” said He.

China and European countries are distinctly complementary, economically speaking. The EU’s high-end mechanical products prevail in China, while China’s labor-intensive products such as mechanical and electrical products, textiles, furniture, and toys have huge cost advantages over Europe.

“Thanks to the Silk Road Economic Belt Initiative, six countries along the rail route are seeing new development opportunities,” said He.  

Each year, China exports some 300 million tons of goods to Europe, while Europe only exports a small quantity of precise instruments, machinery, and high-end clothing to China. For the Chongqing-Xinjiang-Europe International Railway, although plenty of goods are transported from China to European countries, there is not enough return cargo from Europe. To solve this problem, bonded logistics centers in Chongqing and Zhengzhou of Henan Province will be put into use this year.

“At present, the return train has shipped European-made automobile and mechanical equipment to Chongqing, which have a great price advantage,” said He.

This year, Chongqing will open stores of its feature products in key cities along the line, and introduce more European quality commodities to the municipality.

Besides, Chongqing expects to strengthen cooperation with EU countries in fields of high-end technology and equipment, new energy and new materials.

China will launch financial cooperation with central and eastern European countries, including currency swaps and cross-border trade settlements in local currencies. Moreover, China will deepen its economic and trade cooperation with Russia’s Volga Federal District, encouraging Chongqing’s superior enterprises in automobile, chemical and mining industries to enter the Russian market, as well as introducing Russia’s advanced technology and enterprises in general aviation and materials to China.

Along with the maturing of railway logistics between China and Europe, cooperation in rail, port and customs will become closer. The Silk Road is expected to change from a passage of commerce and trade into an economic belt gathering industries and a dense population.