Rail linking Europe to open up China's West

Updated: 2011-07-02 13:55
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CHONGQING - A cargo train filled with laptops and LCD screens has left Chongqing, a mega-city in China's less-developed western regions, starting its 13-day trip to Duisburg, Germany, which marks the official launch of the new transcontinental rail freight route.

The new rail route witnessed its official opening on Thursday night, after three test runs since March last year.

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Clattering out of the station at about 9 p.m., the cargo train is set to travel 11,179 kilometers across the far western Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, before finally reaching Germany.

The route offers a major shortcut to the more traditional sea trade routes from Shanghai and Guangzhou, cutting travel time to Europe from about 36 days by container ship to just 13 days by freight train, said Huang Qifan, mayor of the inland business hub.

Huang said that the train is also safer and less expensive than sea transport.

Though the rails have been there for over ten years, the route is new as no train services linking Chongqing and Europe have been provided before due to complicated customs checks and cargo transfers, according to Ma Zhongyuan, director of Chongqing customs.

Last year, China signed a strategic agreement with Russia and Kazakhstan to open the new freight route, as the country is trying to build the inland labor-rich municipality into an international high-tech hub, especially for laptops.

Foxconn, the world's biggest contract electronics supplier, Acer, Taiwan's leading computer maker, and Hewlett-Packard(HP) are already in place in Chongqing to produce laptops.

In the first five months this year, Chongqing sold 2.43 million laptop computers abroad. The exports were valued at $840 million, accounting for 20 percent of the city's total export value.

The city's export of new- and high-tech products totaled 14.26 billion in the period, up 182.5 percent year-on-year.

Officials believe the shorter transport time to Europe by railway will make made-in Chongqing notebook computers more competitive.

Last month, a new cargo air route also became available between Chongqing and the European cities of Moscow and Luxembourg.

The province-sized city is already a major transport center at the junction of China's prosperous East and poorer West, as cargo can be sent out of Chongqing along the Yangtze River, the country's longest waterway,via air and railway.

The new rail route will be used to link south China's Pearl River Delta manufacturing hub and the country's southwest industrial belt with Europe, officials said.

Just last mouth, a rail route connecting Chongqing and a port in the southern manufacturing hub of Shenzhen went into operation.

The transcontinental track will also boost trade between southeast Asia and the Europe, as railways have already linked Chongqing with the southwestern border province of Yunnan and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, said Cai Jin, vice president of the China Logistics and Purchasing Association.

Currently, the train only leaves Chongqing for Duisburg once a month, but train services may be increased to once per day in the future as the city's exports to Europe increase, according to Huang.