China Rail Freight Shipping

– Everything You Need to Know [2024]
As two modes of land transportation: railway and road, railway can transport long distances, and the transportation cost will also decrease with the increase of distance and load. Safety is also an essential attribute of rail transport as it is the safest mode of transport after air transport.

Rail transit is a product of the industrial age and plays an important role in the economic development of Western Europe, North America, Japan and China. It represents a major advancement in land transportation technology.

It is not only able to carry heavy loads, but also has higher universality and speed. Rail transport offers the possibility of reliable and consistent timetables that can be included in the planning of economic activities such as production and distribution.

Using containers of the same basic size across the world makes it easier to transfer between trains of different gauges, thereby reducing problems caused by incompatible gauge sizes in different countries. With container trains, economies of scale can be easily achieved, with the marginal cost of each additional container falling.

China-EU trade

New long-distance alternatives are emerging in the form of land bridges in North America and between Asia and Europe.

  • In North America, rail has successfully served the long-distance intermodal market, highlighting rail’s efficiency over long distances and high volumes.
  • In Asia, China has deployed a large-scale cross-border investment strategy since 2014, focusing on developing rail corridors between China and Europe, known as the “The Belt and Road”.

As part of its Belt and Road Initiative, China has spent many trillions of dollars (USD) to develop a modern road and rail infrastructure to ship goods not only within China, but into neighboring countries and regions. The freight service and ship times have been improving year by year.

The Asian-Europe Railway

The idea to link the Far East and Europe by rail took its origin with the construction of the Trans Siberian railway linking Moscow to Vladivostok, completed in 1916. With a length of 9,200 km, it is the longest rail segment in the world.

The beginning of the 21st century has brought renewed interest in a long-distance rail connection between Asia and Europe, especially with the booming Asian trade and the increasing pressure to ship containerized freight in a time-sensitive manner over long distances.

These connections came to be known as the Trans Asian Railway, the Northern East-West Corridor, the Eurasian Landbridge, the New Silk Road, OBOR (One Belt One Road; a term used between 2014 and 2017 ) or the BRI (Belt and Road Initiative; a term used since 2017).

The Belt and Road Initiative underlines the importance of China in shaping the development of these infrastructure and trade corridors.

The main route uses the Trans-Siberian Railway either branching to Vladivostok with connections to Eastern China, branching to Kazakhstan, entering western China at Khorgos and Druzhba and then through the Lanzhou rail hub and onward to the coast of China or branching into Mongolia to enter China at Erenhot and then to the main Beijing hub.

China is seeking to expand trade relations in Central Asia through infrastructure development, including rail connections, inland terminals, and ports.

  • In January 2008, a long-distance service called the “Beijing-Hamburg Container Express” was inaugurated, along with a service to Duisburg in 2009. The 10,000 km (6,200 miles) service takes 15 days to link the Chinese capital to the German port city, going through Mongolia, the Russian Federation, Belarus, and Poland. The maritime journey covering the same markets would take about 30 days.
  • In 2014 the longest commercial rail service in the world was achieved when a train carrying 82 containers traveled from the city of Yiwu (a major manufacturing cluster in Zhejiang Province) to Madrid, a journey of 12,800 km that took 21 days.
  • In 2017, the first service between Yiwu and London using the channel tunnel took 16 days. Since then, regular rail services have been established between China and several European cities.

China-Europe Railway Express

China Railway Express operates in accordance with fixed train numbers, routes, schedules and full operation timetables, which is the international intermodal train for containers between China and Europe and countries in between.

The economic landscape in China is undergoing a transformative shift, marked by the relocation of production from coastal to central and western provinces. This shift demands an efficient intercontinental transportation mode to overcome inland bottlenecks, a role CR Express adeptly fulfills.

Furthermore, CR Express directly supports China’s economic evolution, aiding the transition from low value-added manufacturing to the production of higher-value goods. These goods require a delivery mode that is faster and more reliable than maritime but more cost-effective than air transportation.

Number of Trips and Freight Volume of PRC–Europe Railway

The railway mode, exemplified by CR Express, emerges as the preferred solution, offering reduced lead times and heightened supply chain efficiency.

CR Express is poised to capitalize on the growing demand for high-value products, including electronics, auto parts, high-end apparel, machinery, and premium furniture, as well as time-sensitive goods such as fresh produce, everyday clothing, and seasonal toys.

China-Europe Railway Express give full play to their comparative advantages in terms of timeliness, price, transportation capacity, safety, etc. They have become the third logistics method in addition to sea and air transportation.

There are three trunk transport corridors: the west, middle and east corridors.

  • The west corridor is a favorable choice for import and export freight from southwest, northwest, central, north, and east China. The trains are connected with the Kazakh railway system at Alataw Pass and Khorgos railway port in Xinjiang, reaching other European countries via the railway systems of Russia, Belarus and Poland.
  • The middle corridor is a favorable choice for import and export freight from central and north China. The trains are connected with the Mongolian railway system at the Erenhot railway port in Inner Mongolia, reaching other European countries via the railway systems of Russia, Belarus and Poland.
  • The east corridor is a favorable choice for import and export freight from east, south and northeast China. The trains are connected with the Russian railway system at the Manzhouli railway port in Inner Mongolia and the Suifenhe railway port in Heilongjiang, reaching other European countries via the railway systems of Belarus, Poland, etc.

In 2022, the first express train (Xi’an to Duisburg, Germany) with unified schedule arrived in Duisburg after 11 days, 1 hour, and 35 minutes, which created an operation speed record.

China Railway Express has implemented measures to expand and increase tonnage and raise the maximum length and traction weight of the trains. For example, the China Railway Express running at a speed of 120 kilometers per hour has carriages of up to 55 and traction weight of up to 3,000 tons.

Environmentally, rail stands out as a sustainable modal choice for moving freight between China and Europe, as it emits the lowest carbon emissions when compared to maritime, air, and road transportation. This is well aligned with the green development goals advocated by both EU and China.

Due to historical and political reasons, different countries and regions have adopted different railway gauges, standard gauge (1.435 m; China and most of Western Europe) and broad gauge (1.520 m; Russia and some Scandinavian countries).

Transporting goods between China and Europe will involve two gauge changes. The first included the conversion from Chinese standard gauge to Russian broad gauge. The second involved the conversion from Russian broad gauge to European standard gauge. Each time the track gauge changes, containers are transferred side by side from one train to another in a channel-like facility.

Rail Freight Main Routes

Chongqing – Duisburg

It starts from Chongqing Tuanjie Village Station, exits via Alashankou Station, passes through Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland and ends at Duisburg Station in Germany. The total distance is 10,987 kilometers and the running time is about 14-15 days.

Chengdu – Lodz/Tilburg/Nuremberg

Starting from Chengdu Chengxiang Station, exiting via Alashankou Station, passing through Kazakhstan, Russia, and Belarus to Lodz Station in Poland (Tilburg, the Netherlands/Nuremberg, Germany), the total distance is 9,965 kilometers, and the running time is about 11-12 days.

Zhengzhou – Hamburg

It starts from Zhengzhou Putian Station and exits via Alashankou and Erlian Station. The outbound route in the direction of Alashankou passes through Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, and Poland to Hamburg Station in Germany. The total distance is 10,461 kilometers and the running time is about 13 days; the outbound route in the direction of Erlian The total distance from Mongolia, Russia, Belarus, Poland to Hamburg Station in Germany is 10,457 kilometers, and the running time is about 15 days.

Wuhan – Hamburg/Duisburg/Pardubice

Starting from Wuhan Wujiashan Station, exiting via Alashankou, passing through Kazakhstan, Russia, and Belarus to relevant cities in Poland, the Czech Republic, and Germany, the total journey is about 10,880 kilometers, with a running time of about 15 days; it exits via Manzhouli and reaches Russia and Belarus, the total distance is 6645 kilometers, and the running time is about 10 days.

Suzhou – Warsaw

It starts from Suzhou West Railway Station, exits from Manzhouli Railway Station, passes through Russia and Belarus and ends at Warsaw Railway Station in Poland. The total distance is 11,190 kilometers and the running time is about 14 days.

Yiwu – Madrid

It starts from Yiwu West Railway Station, exits from Alashankou, passes through Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, France and ends in Madrid, Spain. The total distance is 13,052 kilometers and the running time is about 18 days.

Yiwu – London

It starts from Yiwu West Railway Station, exits from Alashankou, passes through Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, France, and crosses the English Channel to Barking Station in London, UK. The running time is about 18-20 days.

Shenyang – Hamburg

It starts from Shenyang East Railway Station, exits from Manzhouli Railway Station, passes through Russia, Belarus, and Poland to Hamburg, Germany, with a total distance of 9,985 kilometers and a running time of about 12-14 days.

Hefei – Hamburg

It starts from Hefei North Railway Station, exits from Alashankou Station, passes through Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, and reaches Hamburg, Germany. The total distance is 10,647 kilometers and the running time is about 15 days.

Dongguan – Hamburg

It starts from Dongguan Shilong Station, exits from Manzhouli Station, passes through Russia, Belarus, and Poland to Hamburg, Germany, with a total distance of 12,283 kilometers and a running time of about 17 days.

Harbin – Hamburg

Starting from Harbin Xiangfang Railway Station, passes through Manzhouli, Russia’s Zabaikal to Chita, then transfers to the Russian-Siberian Railway, passes through Yekaterinburg and Moscow in Russia to Malaszewicz in Poland and ends in Hamburg, Germany. The whole journey is 9820 kilometers. Running time About 17 days.

Central Asian train (Lianyungang – Five Central Asian countries)

Departs from Lianyungang, exits via Alashankou/Horgos, and ends in Almaty (Kazakhstan), Qikursay, Tashkent (Uzbekistan), Alamedkin (Kyrgyzstan), Dushanbe (Tajikistan) Waiting station. The New Eurasian Land Bridge on which Lianyungang relies is 900 kilometers shorter to Europe and 2,700 kilometers shorter than the Siberian Land Bridge to Eurasian Economic Union.

West Asia and South Asia trains

There are currently five Central Asia train sites, namely the Alashankou and Horgos connecting Central Asia and West Asia, the Erenhot connecting Mongolia, and the Hekou and Pingxiang connecting South Asia. The goods are mainly divided into two categories: one is China’s import and export goods, and the other is transit goods transiting China through Japan, South Korea, Southeast Asia and other countries.

As of the end of 2023, China-Europe trains have 86 operating routes, connecting 112 cities in China, 217 cities in 25 European countries, and more than 100 cities in 11 Asian countries along the routes.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Rail Transport

  • Transit time: Slower than air freight, faster than sea freight, a supplement to traditional transportation methods
  • Large volume: In the past, air freight could only be used for urgent delivery or high value-added goods, but air freight volume was limited and the price was high. The railway frequency is stable and container transportation is suitable for centralized transportation of bulk goods.
  • Price advantage: It is also between air freight and sea freight, sometimes even lower than sea freight.
  • Environmentally friendly: The average carbon emissions are 1/15 of air transportation and 1/7 of road transportation.
  • Widely distributed: Sea transportation is concentrated at ports, air transportation is concentrated at airports, and railways are distributed in a large number of inland cities in China and Europe.
  • High frequency: Intensive schedules. Many sites have daily departures.
  • Special trains: In the past, it was difficult for China to export low-cost, low-profit goods. China-Europe freight trains provide faster and more cost-effective transportation conditions, and more and more Chinese small commodities are beginning to go global.
  • Controllable process: China-Europe freight trains can visualize the entire process and have a forecasting mechanism that can notify European guests in advance to arrange truck reception.
  • Long reloading time: Affected by site congestion, weather, personnel and other factors, the transportation time may be prolonged.
  • Cargo restrictions: Most special cargo cannot be transported by railway. It cannot contain oil, electricity, magnets, or hydraulic pressure. Liquid and powder cargoes are not accepted.
  • Price differences by location: Prices at inland sites are generally cheaper, while prices at sites near the coast are relatively high, which is mainly related to land freight fees.
  • Document complexity: There are many documents accompanying the train that require information in Chinese, English and Russian, and sites inspections may be delayed.

Here’s a table showing the differences for your reference.

Time3-5 days15-18 days12 days in Summer, 15 days in Winter30-35 days
Cost3 EUR/KG in off season, 5 EUR/KG in peak season1.5 EUR/KG2.5 EUR/KG2 EUR/KG
ReliabilityStableStableLess stableLess stable

What CFC Can Do for You?

As a new mode of international land transportation, China-Europe trains provide new logistics options for international trade between Asia and Europe.

The transportation cost is about 1/5 of that of air transportation, and the transportation time is about 1/4 of that of sea transportation. Considering the time cost of high value-added goods in transit, it can save 10%-20% of comprehensive logistics costs.

China-Europe freight trains not only bring “Made in China” and “Chinese opportunities” to European and Central Asian countries, but also bring back “Made in Europe” and “European hope.”

The categories of goods shipped from China to Europe have expanded from the initial IT products such as mobile phones and computers to include complete automobiles, machinery and equipment, home building materials, clothing, shoes and hats, electronic products, and more than 50,000 products in 53 categories.

The types of goods shipped from Europe to China have gradually expanded from early timber, automobiles and spare parts to mechanical and electrical products, food, medical equipment, alcohol, etc., achieving diversified development.

CFC can be your one-stop railway logistics partner, from the very beginning to the very end.

  • International trade train
  • International express train
  • International cold-chain train
  • International automobile train
  • International e-commerce train

In ancient times, there was the Silk Road trade camel caravan, and now there is the China-Europe Express “Steel Camel Caravan.” Compared with the current maritime transportation situation, China freight trains have the advantages of fast timeliness, safer transportation process, and more reasonable cost.

You can use overland transportation to create a more cost-effective, reliable distribution solution. Ready to cut costs and streamline your supply chain process? Request a quote and take the first step toward a streamlined future.

Providing exceptional customer service and support, we take our clients through the entire logistical and customs clearance process; continual progress updates providing you with peace of mind and the freedom to pursue your core business activities.

CFC News - Jul. 22, 2024

41 exit-entry ports in China have implemented the 144-hour visa-free transit policy for worldwide 54 countries.

Only $19.99

The ultimate step-by-step ebook about sourcing and importing from China, for Worldwide Importers and Ecommerce Businesses [2024]

Supplier Verification

Check your potential suppliers in China – get the verification report in 24 hours. Protect your business, avoid scams and frauds.

My machine arrived in good order and I am happy with CFC's shipping arrangements. I received quotes from other forwarding companies but they kept changing the amounts. Your quote was exact and there were no hidden charges. I would be happy to recommend CFC to other importers of goods from China.

--- Chris G., Canada
Click for more reviews