China-Europe freight trains face backlog as export orders boom

By Yin Yeping Source: Global Times Published: 2020/12/14 20:58:40

China EU trade Photo:VCG

Driven by booming demand for Chinese goods abroad that has squeezed the capacity of sea transport and pushed up air cargo rates due to the pandemic, China-Europe long distance freight trains are running at full capacity so some goods have to wait until February for shipment.

With Christmas approaching, demand for freight trains between China and Europe remains robust. However, due to strengthened pandemic control measures at the ports and adverse weather conditions, handling capacity at some land ports has been reduced, as some routes are moving slowly, according to a recent statement by China Railway.

A reported order from China Railway suggested that due to the large stockpiles of export-bound goods at border-crossing ports, the goods will be suspended from loading starting from 6 pm on Sunday to 6 pm on Wednesday.

Manzhouli and Erlian, in North China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, and Alashankou port in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, are included on the list of suspensions.

A source close to the Manzhouli port confirmed to the Global Times on condition of anonymity on Monday that some trains have a backlog due to limited transport and reloading capacity on the Russian side. 

"There is a certain backlog of goods at the Manzhouli station, and these goods have not been declared," the source said, noting that the loading capacity of the Russian port in Manzhouli is four or five trains a day, while the Chinese side has basically no loading restrictions.

Soaring export orders have caused severe shortages of containers and air cargo rates have surged, so the railway that stretches across the Asian and European continents has injected strong impetus in boosting cross-border flows of goods and services, and the resumption of work and production.

China-Europe freight trains continued to operate at a high frequency in November, running 1,238 services, up 64 percent, with delivery of 115,000 20-foot-equivalent containers, up 73 percent year-on-year, according to China Railway.

China-Europe freight trains Graphics: GT

However, rising overseas orders, and the lack of shipping capacity and container shortages, led to the transfer of many goods from sea and air channels to freight trains, which placed unprecedented pressure on the China-Europe freight train, Zhao Juan, research fellow with the China Railway Economic and Planning Research Institute, told the Global Times.

"At the border port, all the goods need to be moved from the domestic train to the foreign train, and shortages of manpower and facilities at the port greatly affect this process," said Zhao, noting that how soon the problem will ease depends on conditions abroad.

A manager surnamed Jiang with an international logistics company told the Global Times on Monday that goods are hard to ship out in a timely manner and the company is not sure about shipping times because of the traffic problems.

"Bookings for delivery via train and sea can't be done before January or February next year and this is the case at all ports across the country," said Jiang.

Delays at cross-border ports have even affected inland shipments. According to Yiwu Customs, this year China-Europe freight trains have increased by nearly 105 percent year-on-year, with growth nearly doubling in the first half of the year, with typically two or three trains being dispatched on daily basis. 

In the face of explosive demand for trains, Yiwu railway's capacity is already booked through January, according to the local customs.

A manager at the Manzhouli Xinyuan freight company surnamed Sun told the Global Times on Monday that the company is using trucks instead of trains or other transport methods to ship goods such as food between China and other countries such as Russia to save time.

"The same batch of goods takes 20 days or more to clear customs on the China-Europe freight train, while it only takes eight days by road," said Sun, because railway transportation on the Russian side is more complicated.

To speed up the examination procedure, the Manzhouli Customs set up a special post that will operate 24/7 to ensure that goods will be examined upon arrival with "zero delay" in clearance, according to a report that Manzhouli Customs sent to the Global Times on Monday.

Radiation detection and volume detection systems and other equipment are being used to improve the non-invasive inspection rate, giving priority to the inspection of China-Europe freight trains to improve efficiency, according to the Manzhouli Customs.

Newspaper headline: Cargo train service to Europe faces long backlog for exports


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