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Embrace of rail brings transport sea change

By CHEN WEIHUA in Duisburg, Germany | China Daily | Updated: 2021-12-07 10:24
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The Duisburg Intermodal Terminal is a key hub of multimodal transport that comes together under the port of Duisburg. The port in the western German city has enjoyed strong growth since the first freight train from the Chinese city of Chongqing set off in 2011. LU YANG/XINHUA

German city of Duisburg reaps rewards as hub for China-Europe freight services

When the Suez Canal was blocked by the 400-meter-long container vessel Ever Given in March, the headlines around the world gave scant attention to dog leashes and other canine accessories.

But, for pet supplies retailer Fressnapf Group, getting these products-as well as cat trees and the like-to pet lovers in Europe was all that mattered. With the vital waterway in Egypt paralyzed, the managers at Fressnapf had decisions to make-and quickly.

The freight transport routes via sea and air were already congested, largely because of the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. And Fressnapf's franchise partners, stores and customers were having to wait much longer for pet care products, all made in China.

The company, one of the biggest pet supplies retailers in Europe, changed tack. It hastily arranged-in a first for the company-for a 42-container-long train to haul its products from Linyi in East China's Shandong province to its import warehouse in the port of Duisburg. All the better that the port was just 20 kilometers from the company's headquarters in Krefeld. Both cities are in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia. As well as being Germany's most populous state, it is an economic engine and a major region for exporters.

On the train's 11,000-km journey, it passed through Russia, Belarus and Poland before reaching Duisburg, the world's largest inland port.

To Fressnapf founder and owner Torsten Toeller, the switch to rail makes sense not only as a way to better serve the customers but also for environmental considerations. Seventy-five percent less carbon dioxide is emitted when goods are consigned to rail instead of being shipped on the high seas.

Fressnapf is one of a growing number of companies that have jumped on the bandwagon to embrace the transcontinental freight trains, now collectively known as the China Railway Express, or CRE.

According to the China State Railway Group, 12,605 CRE train services plied the route in the first 10 months of this year, carrying 1.22 million TEUs (20-foot equivalent units), a rise of 26 percent and 33 percent, respectively, over the same period of last year and both exceeding the yearly numbers of 2020.

Zhang Wen, managing director of Duisburg-based CRCT Europe Logistics, a subsidiary of China Railway Container Transport Corp, part of the China State Railway Group, still remembers the departure of the first China-Europe freight train that set out from Chongqing to Duisburg on March 19, 2011. The train service was a key part of the western inland Chinese city's efforts to entice more producers of laptop computers to move their manufacturing lines there with the bait of improved transport links.

Chongqing's stature in the global supply chain for laptops has since grown immensely. It has been the world's largest hub for the production of laptops for the past seven years, churning out more than 70 million units in 2020.

When the Chongqing-Duisburg route was launched in 2011, it was known as Yuxinou, meaning Chongqing-Xinjiang-Europe, for the three main places that it connects.

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