Six thousand kilometers across seven countries Why are firms opting for long-distance trains?

When the freight trains arrived at this rail station in suburban Paris, it seemed like many others. But one thing set the train apart: it began its voyage more than 6,000 kilometers distant in western China. From Xi’an to Paris, the train transported more than three dozen 40-foot containers, each loaded with Chinese celebration balloons and vehicle components. It had taken five and a half weeks to go through China, Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, and France.

Rail freight transfers between China and Europe, which were previously unheard of, have become much more popular as firms seek alternatives to clogged and expensive air and maritime routes due to the outbreak.

Companies who need to transfer perishable or time-sensitive products but don’t want to pay for air freight choose rail shipments. Containers can travel by rail from Europe to China in as little as 20 days, but a voyage by sea might take up to 70 days due to epidemic delays. 

Because of traffic on the rails, lengthy customs inspections at the Polish border, and a scarcity of train drivers in Germany caused by the epidemic, the train CNN Business followed from China to France was over two weeks late arriving in Paris.

The China-Europe trains service, which began in 2011 as part of Beijing’s Belt and Road infrastructure ambition, grew swiftly. The epidemic wreaked havoc on world commerce, making delivering items by water far more costly.

According to Chinese official media, a record 15,000 freight train journeys were undertaken between China and Europe in 2021, up 82 percent from the pre-pandemic number of 2019. 1.46 million containers by rail.

Trains between Europe and China provide only a limited option to ships — the biggest of which hold more than 20,000 20-foot containers — due to the fast growth in rail traffic, which is already creating congestion on the tracks and putting infrastructure under strain.

Because former Soviet republics use a different rail gauge than China and Europe, they must move containers traveling between Europe and China to new train cars twice.

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