Low-carbon transport between China and Europe

Rail freight transport plays a big role in the project.

China wants to be more environmentally friendly. Carbon-free transport of goods to the EU is helping it achieve this goal. DB Cargo Eurasia has been running container trains full of clothing, food and machinery between Europe and China for more than ten years.

In late September 2020, Chinese President Xi Jinping made an historic announcement: China would achieve climate neutrality by 2060. A big ambition considering the country still tops the list of the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters. Instead of pointing the finger at Western industrial nations, the economic giant now wants to get to work itself. The trans-Eurasian corridor, one of the world’s most fascinating globalisation projects, will be a particularly important part of this. China wants to shift traffic to rail to avoid having its exports slapped with CO2 duties — which the EU is already discussing.

Dr Carsten Hinne, Senior Vice-President Corridor Development/Eurasian Corridor and CEO of DB Cargo Eurasia GmbH: "China is expanding rail on a massive scale to mitigate the climate impact of road traffic, among other aims." After all, no other means of long-distance transport can hold a candle to rail in terms of CO2 efficiency right now: freight trains emit around 95% less CO2 than air freight and a third less than road haulage. The figures compare well to ocean freight, too. If you want to organise intercontinental logistics chains that are fit for the future, there is no way around rail freight transport.

Growth despite COVID-19
Companies have been shifting freight transport to and from Asia onto the rail network for more than ten years now. DB Cargo Eurasia has been hauling containers to and from China since 2008. According to China Rail, a total of 4,329 container trains ran between the EU and China in 2019, more than a 5% gain compared to the previous year. So far, even the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 shows no signs of having halted this growth; on the contrary: about 11% more trains ran from January to April 2020 than in the same period of 2019.

Transit times from China to Europe have steadily reduced over the past few years, as well; terminal-to-terminal times currently stand at 12-14 days. New routes are being added all the time, too. Since April 2020 there has been a weekly connection from Xi'an via Kaliningrad (rail) to Rostock (container ship) and on to Duisburg, Hamburg or Verona (rail) in 11 to 13 days. This means that rail freight transport between Asia and Europe has developed into an abso-lutely reliable alternative to air freight, especially now that deliveries of supplies for the pan-demic to Europe are on the rise. Rail is quick and green at as little as a tenth of the transport cost.

DB Cargo Eurasia has been running container trains full of clothing, food and machinery between Europe and China for more than ten years. Copyright: DB Cargo AG

“China is massively expanding rail to rein in the impact of road traffic on the climate, among other aims.”Dr Carsten Hinne, Senior Vice President Corridor Development/Eurasian Corridor and CEO of DB Cargo Eurasia GmbH

Several weekly connections between China and Europe
DB Cargo is looking to further boost its transport capacity. Despite the steady growth, a mere 2% of all freight traffic to and from China currently travels by rail. "DB carried around 130,000 standard containers (TEUs) on the Eurasian corridor in 2019. In 2020, we broke through the 200,000 TEU mark. Our target for 2025 is 500,000 TEUs," says Hinne. What was one single freight train in 2008 has since grown into several connections weekly between various indus-trial centres in China and Europe.

Planting trees and saving paper
DB Cargo Eurasia relies on partners to further expand rail transport on the Eurasian Corridor and make it even more sustainable. Following an agreement between the operator of the ITL logistics platform and DB Cargo Eurasia in spring 2019, a tree will be planted for each contain-er train that the two partners send from Xi'an to Europe. A whole forest will spring from this spontaneous initiative to document sustainability.

The 10,000th freight train bound for Europe left the Chinese megalopolis of Chongqing on 28 March 2020. Copyright: DB Cargo AG

DB Cargo Eurasia is also working in tandem with DB Systel and Deutsche Bahn International Affairs to speed up transports between Asia and Europe even further. In September 2020, the parties discussed the digitalisation of international container transport on the Eurasian Corridor in a meeting with other members of the Seven Railways Agreement. One possible solution: blockchain. Among other things, this could eliminate paper transport documents, making shipments even more environmentally friendly.

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