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China-Europe railway network sparks new vitality in Germany's biggest inland port

Xinhua | Updated: 2018-03-29 15:37

BERLIN - For centuries, endless river steamers run on the Rhine river, making their whistles as the symbol of the prosperity of German city Duisburg.

Today the sirens of trains coming from thousands of miles away and the sound of whistles converge here. Like a cheerful symphony, new vitality is being brought to the city.

Duisburg, Germany's biggest inland port and one of the important slots of China Railway Express (CRE), has witnessed fruitful results of the Belt and Road Initiative over the past few years and harvested its own urban economic growth.

Witness: From few to many

Amelie Erxleben, of DIT Duisburg Intermodal Terminal, showed us recently around the terminal, where containers labeled with "China Railway Express" were seen everywhere. Large equipment machines were busy loading and unloading.

"About one third of our business now is related to China," Erxleben said, adding that "around 25 west- and eastbound CRE trains are expected here every week."

DIT, one of the nine large freight yards, is also a main railway container distribution center in the region. Only four years ago, DIT only handled seven to eight CRE trains weekly.

The soaring business volume makes dit appear more crowded. Even the road in front of its gated is often congested.

In order to deal with new situation, management of the terminal has recently bought another 200,000 square meters of land, according to Erxleben.

Duisburg is on one end of the Chongqing-Xinjiang-Europe rail line which started operation in 2011 from the Chinese southwest city of Chongqing. In recent years, more and more trains operated by the CRE from Zhengzhou, Wuhan, Yiwu, Shenyang and other Chinese cities are arriving here.

Statistics showed that 78 Chongqing-Xinjiang-Europe trains, a year-on-year increase of 66 percent, have been operated since this January. More than 1,000 trains are planned this year.

Participation: Unlimited opportunities

Chen Si, a native woman from China's western province of Sichuan, is exploring the huge market brought by CRE trains, together with her husband Klaus Hellmann, member of the supervisory board of the German logistics company Hellmann.

The transport between Germany and China takes CRE trains approximately 14 days, much faster than by sea and much cheaper than by air. Therefore, it has certain comparative advantage, according to Chen.

"Last year, the total volume of our business by rail from Europe to China amounted to 160,000 tonnes, almost equaling the weight of the Cologne Cathedral," said Matthias Magnor, chief operating officer of Rail and Road at Hellmann, during an interview with Xinhua.

CRE trains has made a great contribution to that volume. Meanwhile, the business is growing very fast, Magnor added.

Many industries have benefited from the Europe-China freight trains.

"For example the fashion industry, the sales would be very much affected by seasonal reasons. Before the operation of CRE trains, it would take around 40 to 50 days to transport. But now 14 to 15 days are needed, which will sufficiently ensure the sales," Magnor said.

In fact, when Hellmann began its CRE train business five years ago, some German companies were not very optimistic.

"I managed to persuade them that it is a viable transport option," Hellmann said.

Facts speak louder than words. CRE trains under the Belt and Road Initiative have become the "third pillar" for the transportation between Europe and Asia besides air and sea ways.

Win-win: New sail for old ship

In recent years, Duisburg has also faced the problem of traditional growth momentum decline and is in search for new growth engines. It is just like an old ship opening a new sail. With CRE trains, another gold time will be presented to Duisburg.

Johannes Pflug, responsible for China affairs in the Duisburg municipality, said that the volume of the Port of Duisburg grew by 30 percent in 2017, making itself the fastest growing port in Germany.

CRE trains play an important role and more than 6,000 jobs in the area of logistics for the city have been created, Pflug told Xinhua, adding "we are the beneficiary of CRE trains."

In Pflug's opinion, CRE trains connect the Europe and Asia more closely, achieving a win-win situation. Not only Chinese goods, but also Chinese capital and companies are attracted to Duisburg. More than 100 Chinese companies have so far settled in the region.

"A Chinese company is constructing a 18-story hotel; Chinese company Huawei is responsible for the lighting project of the city," Pflug said.

As the Mayor of Duisburg Soeren Link said, CRE trains have brought unlimited opportunities to the city. They bring not only the development of local logistics, but also the improvement of supporting services.

The Belt and Road Initiative sees Duisburg usher in a second spring, according to a commentary of German newspaper Sueddeutsche.

The Rhine crosses Duisburg and enters the North Sea. The world economy is just like the sea that can not return to the lake. Protectionism can not create current prosperity in Duisburg either. The new movement on the Rhine is precisely the pulse of this great new era.

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