Import from China – Cargo train connections Europe-China

For a long time, Western buyers of Chinese merchandise had two transportation options. They could choose fast but expensive air transport or economical maritime transport. Over the years, air freight and sea freight have risen. Then their alternative got more popular – rail freight. What are the cargo train connections Europe-China?

Cargo train connections Europe-China


Many centuries ago, Europe and China were connected by the famous Silk Road, which led from the ancient capital of China, Xi’an, to Europe’s gateway, Constantinople. China exported silk, paper, and iron, but the expansion of Turk tribes and the development of the sea route around the Cape of Good Hope caused its demise. With the political stability of post-Soviet countries, the reborn of the Silk Road was possible. Instead of caravans, the distance between China and Europe is covered by container trains.

Thanks to the New Silk Road project, the number of China-Europe trains rose from 80 to over 6,000 per year in only five years.

Europe-China rail links

Railway routes connect China with many countries, such as North Korea, Thailand, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, Germany, Italy, Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Czech Republic, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Spain, Great Britain, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania.

Europe has connections to the following terminals in China: Changsha, Changchun, Chengdu, Chongqing, Dongguan, Hangzhou, Harbin, Hefei, Jinan, Guangzhou, Nanjing, Nantong, Ningbo, Beijing, Qingdao, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Suzhou, Shenyang, Taiyuan, Tianjin, Wuhan, Xi’an, Xiamen, Yiwu, Wuhan, and Zhengzhou.

The cargo usually passes through two main roads:

  • The northern road goes from Vladivostok through Moscow to Poland, and further, the southern crosses Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine. The Kazakh road is relatively new; the transborder railway connection was built in the 90s.
  • The Trans-Siberian railway, which is the major part of the northern road, is more than 100 years old and is considered to be the longest railway in the world.

Wuhan-Europe links:

The first train loaded with Chinese cargo arrived in Hamburg from Xiangtan on October 6, 2008. The connection is operated by Trans-Eurasia Logistics. The company now offers over 30 services, for example, the Wuhan – Duisburg route (via Alashankou, 14-26 days). From Duisburg, the cargo can be easily shipped further into Europe.

  • Wuhan – Duisburg (Germany)
  • Wuhan – Hamburg (Germany)
  • Wuhan – Lodz (Poland)
  • Wuhan – Lyon (France)
  • Wuhan – Moscow (Russia)
  • Wuhan – Pardubice (Czech Republic)

Chengdu-Europe links:

Another interesting route connects Chengdu in Sichuan with Lodz in Poland. The train takes 14-16 days to cover the distance; YHF Intermodal Logistics runs the service. Lodz is located in the central part of Poland next to the crossing of the country’s most important highways, so sending containers to other European cities is relatively easy.

  • Chengdu – Budapest (Hungary)
  • Chengdu – Lodz (Poland)
  • Chengdu – Moscow (Russia)
  • Chengdu – Nuernberg (Germany)
  • Chengdu – Tilburg (Netherlands)

Chongqing-Europe links:

Belgian Antwerp, Europe’s second largest port, is connected by rail with the Chinese city of Chongqing. The service takes 20 to 25 days and is operated by Hupac. Antwerp offers professional intermodal services, and the cargo can be shipped further to West Africa as well as North and South America.

  • Chongqing – Circassian (Russia)
  • Chongqing – Duisburg (Germany)
  • Chongqing – Minsk (Belarus)

Rail freight as a good alternative

Rail connection has several advantages: it is safer and leaves a lower carbon footprint than other means of transportation. The cargo can be easily traced using GPS devices, and unloading is easier, it doesn’t require huge container terminals.

However, several factors may influence railway freight operations: China is supporting the development of rail connections with Europe, but we must remember that the trains are going through other countries. Any political instability may severely affect transcontinental freight services. To successfully manage the transcontinental line, the shipment company has to deal with many rail operators, customs regimes, and laws. On top of that, while most countries of the EU participate in a standard gauge network, Russia, Kazakhstan, and other post-Soviet countries use broad gauge. Usually, the train arriving at the border is unloaded completely, and the cargo is transferred to another train. But the whole operation is a waste of time.

Is rail freight expensive?

An inevitable question about expenses cannot be answered directly. Of course, the customer has to pay more for the faster service, and rail freight is more expensive than sea freight. But, of course, transporting the equivalent of a container load by air would be very costly.

Most importers got used to maritime cargo transport and long shipping times. Many consider railway cargo transport an emergency solution, used in cases where other means failed. This way of thinking may be right today, but the train connections between Europe and China are quickly developing, and the prices may fall. Just imagine what will happen if any railroads are adopted for double-stack containerization – the transport capacity will increase twofold.