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Ten years of rail to the Far East

It all began ten years ago with one train; now there are around 3,600 trains a year: rail freight transport between Germany and China has grown rapidly in the run-up to the 2018 anniversary and is still on the rise.

DB Cargo has already nearly reached its target of transporting 100,000 standard containers a year between China and Europe by 2020. This year's figure will be around 90,000.

The first test train from Beijing to Hamburg in January 2008 took 15 days. Regular operation began in October of the same year, though initial volumes were relatively low. Now, trains from various industrial centres across China head west at least once a week, and sometimes as often as four or five times weekly.

The scheduled running time of 14 to 16 days is unchanged since the launch. This is due to the particularities of the 10,000 to 12,000-kilometre-long route. Due to different track gauges, the containers have to be reloaded twice. This takes at least six hours. Especially in the border areas, the lines are not fully electrified, meaning trains have to resort to diesel locomotives for parts of the route.

Rail freight transport has great potential.

Trains are more expensive than ships, but also quicker. Compared with air freight, meanwhile, the train takes longer, but is cheaper. Above all, it is the most environmentally friendly of the three options. Ninety percent of goods traded between China and Europe currently go by ship, 9% by air and only 1% by rail.

But DB Cargo has laid the foundations for further growth in this corridor. Since August, there has been a new office in Shanghai, bringing together the company's Eurasian activities. "Now the customer has a contact directly at local level with a complete fourth-party logistics provider. That's a key difference from before. We now provide transport and operator services from a single source and guarantee the agreed transport terms," explains DB Cargo's China expert, Uwe Leuschner. You can read a detailed interview with him and his colleague Dr Carsten Hinne in the next issue of our customer magazine, railways, which will be published at the beginning of December.