China’s Xi’an sees increasing trips made by China-Europe freight trains

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China Europe Freight Train X
China-Europe freight train X8155 departs from the Xi'an Guojigang Railway Station for Hamburg, Germany on Nov. 28, 2023, which marks the 10th anniversary of the China-Europe freight train (Xi'an) service. (Photo by Liu Xiang/People's Daily Online)

By Li Xinping, 

The Xi’an Guojigang Railway Station in Xi’an, northwest China’s Shaanxi province, is the railway station that sees the most trips made by China-Europe freight trains across China. It is designed to handle 5.4 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) and transport 66 million tons of cargo via railway each year.  

At the massive 500-soccer-pitch-sized station, vehicles are always running in ground slots left between neatly stacked containers, while gantry cranes are working busily.

Since the China-Europe freight train (Xi’an) service was launched in 2013, Xi’an has handled over 20,000 China-Europe freight trains, or about a quarter of China’s total. It operated more than 5,000 China-Europe freight trains in 2023 alone.

Today, the Xi’an Guojigang Railway Station operates 18 regular international routes westward, which reach Almaty in Kazakhstan, Tashkent in Uzbekistan, and Hamburg in Germany, and traverse the Caspian Sea, covering the entire Eurasian continent and connecting Xi’an to major international trade hubs. 

Besides, the station also runs scheduled rail-sea intermodal services eastward to Qingdao, Ningbo, and Lianyungang, and operates freight services to Vietnam and Laos in the south.

Currently, the Xi’an Guojigang Railway Station serves as a distribution hub for cargos from over 20 provinces across China as 21 rail routes to west Europe pass through it. 

“Although Xi’an doesn’t lie on the border or the coast, you can see the entire world from right here,” said Li Pei, a duty manager of the station.

According to Shao Bo’er, general manager of Xi’an International Inland Port Multimodal Transportation Co., Ltd., which operates the China-Europe freight train (Xi’an) service, the company’s business volume increased by 1.5 times year-on-year in the first two months of this year. 

The company has gained major domestic enterprises like Sany Heavy Industry and LiuGong as new clients, as well as multinational corporations such as Volkswagen, Shao said. Even consigners from Japan and South Korea would take Xi’an as a transfer hub for their goods to Europe, Shao added.

In July 2023, the station upgraded its service to a “2.0 version” – with two outbound and one inbound full-time schedule trains per week.

Full-time schedule trains refer to freight trains operating just like passenger trains, with fixed train numbers, routes, schedules, and travel times, which ensure reliable transportation efficiency.

For example, the cargo service between Xi’an and Duisburg, Germany sees two departures from the Xi’an Guojigang Railway Station at 3:55 am every Wednesday and Saturday. The train arrives in Duisburg about 10 days later after traveling 9,908 kilometers, which is over 30 percent faster than regular freight services. The average carbon emission of the service is only 1/15 of air transportation and 1/7 of road transportation.

“We have installed positioning electronic locks powered by the BeiDou satellite navigation system on containers, allowing consigners to track their goods just like express deliveries,” said Shao. 

Although the full-time schedule freight train service is slightly more expensive than regular services, its quality has attracted an increasing number of manufacturers of high-value products.

The bustling logistics signals a positive trend of continued economic recovery.

At a battery factory of LONGi Green Energy Technology Co., Ltd. (LONGi), a leading Chinese enterprise in the solar photovoltaic industry based in Xi’an, one solar panel is manufactured every 0.8 seconds in a spacious and bright dust-free workshop that covers 17,000 square meters.

“These are the solar panels we’re producing for a 1GW photovoltaic project in Uzbekistan. There are over 2.08 million pieces of them, which will be loaded into about 3,000 containers and transported in batches by China-Europe freight trains to Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan,” said She Haifeng, vice president of LONGi.

Solar panels have become a “new star” on the cargo list of China-Europe freight trains in recent years. While traditional products like clothing, furniture, and home appliances still make up a significant volume, the share of new items, including new energy vehicles, lithium-ion batteries, and photovoltaic products is rising rapidly. 

“High value-added products such as aerospace components, traffic signal equipment, ship structures, and mineral fuels account for around 50 percent of the freight volume,” said Shao.

At the same time, traditional products exported via the China-Europe freight service are becoming high-end, intelligent, and green. The added value of products like electronics, machinery parts, textiles, metal ornaments, and plastic goods is getting higher and higher.

“According to statistics, the average value of goods per container of full-time schedule China-Europe freight trains is around 1 million yuan ($138,238),” Shao said.

The thriving China-Europe freight train service is driving the continuous extension of an “online Silk Road”.

Adjacent to the Xi’an Guojigang Railway Station sits the Xi’an Chanba Cross-Border E-Commerce Industrial Park, which has gathered over 300 cross-border e-commerce companies and related businesses. 

It is reported that the park hosts over 100 foreign e-commerce live streamers. Connected directly to the railway station, the park enables customs clearance within 1.5 hours.

In 2023, the Xi’an International Trade and Logistic Park operated a total of 525 cross-border e-commerce freight trains, with cross-border e-commerce trade exceeding 10 billion yuan. The combination of China-Europe freight trains and cross-border e-commerce has become a new engine driving regional trade growth.

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