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Rail Freight From China


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What is rail transport?

Rail freight, which involves transporting goods using railroads and trains, is a cost-effective and efficient method of shipping goods over long distances. When shipping goods from China, a logistics company will load the goods onto a cargo train and transport them to their intended destination. This method of transportation is a good middle ground between air and sea freight, offering a balance of speed and cost-effectiveness.  


Rail freight shipping from China

China holds the title of the world's top manufacturer and plays a crucial role in global trade. As a result, the country has a robust network of air, sea, and rail freight to ensure the safe transportation of goods from businesses worldwide. In response to environmental concerns, China is planning to increase its rail freight capacity by 30 percent, with a focus on reducing pollution from truck transportation. This move emphasizing the importance of utilizing rail freight services for transporting goods to major transit hubs.  


Which cities in China are connected to a railway network?

China boasts the largest railway network in the world, making it a popular choice for transporting bulk goods. While railway freight services are easily booked by both suppliers and buyers, the majority of cargo transported via trains is coal, accounting for over 50 percent of total rail freight tonnage.

Although container cargo makes up a small fraction of the total rail freight, rail cargo only accounts for 8 percent of total freight shipments from China, in contrast to the US where it accounts for over 40 percent. The government is looking to increase the share of railway goods transported in order to reduce the number of trucks on roadways.

In China, rail freight services are primarily used for domestic shipping, with railways serving as a crucial connector to transit points from inland China. Notably, international rail freight routes have been opened in various cities in China to promote international trade.  

In 2011, Chongqing began offering rail freight services to Duisburg, Germany, which significantly reduced shipping time to two weeks from five compared to sea freight. Additionally, the cost of this rail route is 80 percent cheaper than air cargo shipments to Duisburg. Yiwu serves as a key railway hub for cargo transportation to and from Europe, with goods conveniently delivered to France, Italy, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom. This makes rail freight a convenient option for many traders, especially considering the high cost of inland transportation within the European Union.  

Advantages of choosing a rail freight service from China  

Rail freight has numerous benefits to offer. The major ones are: Rail freight offers numerous benefits, including time and cost savings, quicker customs procedures, and flexible services. It is a great alternative for companies operating internationally, as it is cheaper and offers quicker delivery compared to other modes of transportation. Additionally, customs procedures can be completed easily with the help of a reliable rail freight forwarder. This mode of transportation also accepts a wide variety of goods for transportation, including dangerous goods, LCL and FCL, and door-to-door deliveries.  

Why rail freight is becoming a popular option from China to Europe?

Railway transportation is a strong and efficient option for transporting bulk materials, as it is both cost-effective and environmentally friendly. Before the establishment of a proper network, shipments between China and Europe were sent through Central Asia and Mongolia. Now, Tianjin and Qingdao serve as major ports for shipping rail freight from China to Asia. The dedicated rail route between China and Europe has improved trade and is becoming a more reliable and popular method for shipping cargo to Europe. Additionally, the direct train service has reduced transit times and decreased the reliance on air and sea freight services.  

Rail departure schedule from China to Europe

China has over 15 main cities with rail freight connections to more than 16 major cities in Europe. Each train is typically permitted around 41 containers, but this number can vary depending on the specific routes. When trains cross borders with different rail gauge systems, they may need to be reloaded, but this process is considered low-risk. The high standards for loading sequence, cargo weight, and container loading mechanism make railways a popular choice for transporting high-value products such as high-fashion clothing, electrical and mechanical products, and electronic components from China to Europe.  


Can dangerous products be shipped by train from China?

The transportation of hazardous materials is contingent upon the specific rail route and the type of container that is permitted. Open-top containers share the same payload, capacity, and dimensions as sea containers.  


The New Silk Road

China has launched a new railway line called "The New Silk Road" in an effort to expand its trade network. This railway line connects several European cities, such as Madrid and Hamburg. The inaugural journey of the train involved transporting 44 containers of clothes and suits over a distance of 12,000 kilometers to Europe. Upon reaching Europe, 10 containers were offloaded at Duisburg, and the remaining containers were removed at the Euro hub terminal in Barking.  

At present, there are four weekly train services from Duisburg and three from Hamburg that operate between China. The train from Duisburg crosses Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia before reaching the Chinese city Chongqing, one of the largest industrial centers in the country. Covering a distance of 12,200 km, the journey takes between 15-20 days for the train, while the traditional wagon takes 22-25 days. The train has the capacity to carry 100 TEUs and 40-foot GPHC and PWHC containers, all of which are equipped with GPS tracking systems.  

The first intermodal freight train from Chengdu to Vienna completed a 9,800 km journey in just 14 days, carrying 44 containers filled with various goods. The train passed through Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine, and Slovakia before reaching its final destination. This rail network connects 41 European cities with 43 cities in China and spans over 13 countries, with plans to extend to Southeast Asia. In 2018, a train transported cargo from Europe to Hanoi and returned with electrical commodities, coffee, rice, and Vietnamese fruit. The China-Europe lines are expected to expand to connect more Southeast Asian nations in the future.  

Rail Freight From China

How long does it take to deliver goods from China via rail freight?

The estimated delivery time for shipping from China to Europe via rail is typically around 10-20 days, which is a significant time saving compared to sea freight, which can take up to 10-15 days longer. If you're interested in learning more about the specific rail routes available for shipping between China and Europe, please reach out to us for more information.  

Rail freight vs. air freight vs. sea freight

Rail freight offers a middle ground between the speed of air freight and the cost-effectiveness of ocean freight. It is faster than sea freight but less expensive than air freight, making it a popular choice for transporting goods. Additionally, rail freight has a lower environmental impact compared to other freight options.

The China-Europe train covers the journey from China to Europe in less than 11,000 km, making it a faster alternative to container ships that cannot pass through the Suez Canal, which have to travel 24,000 km to reach Europe. A wide range of goods can be transported via rail freight, including wood, coffee beans, wines, grains, automobiles, clothing, mobile phones, and computers.

While maritime shipping remains the primary method for transporting goods, there has been an increase in the use of rail freight for high-value and high-volume cargo. Customers with high-volume shipments may opt for slower but cheaper sea freight, while those shipping high-value goods may choose rail freight. For time-sensitive shipments, air freight remains a viable option.  


How much does rail freight cost?

Rail freight costs have become more competitive in recent years, now being about half the price of air freight solutions. Importers can save thousands of dollars by choosing rail over air. Volumetric charges do not apply to rail freight, further reducing costs. The Chinese government's establishment of a rail network with European nations has significantly lowered rail freight charges in recent years. You can contact DFH executives to learn more about the specific costs involved, which can range from $0.6 to $1 per kg depending on the goods being transported.  


Can I send LCL and FCL cargo via rail?

Certainly. The process for intercontinental rail freight is generally similar, with delivery defined based on the same incoterms, and cargo being loaded either as FCL or LCL. It's worth noting that intercontinental rail freight is a relatively new option. Additionally, it's important to be aware of the varying regulations and restrictions in the 13 countries that the railway network between Europe and China spans, as this may limit options for traders shipping goods from China.  

Does the importer need any special documents?

The supplier must possess a specialized license for transporting goods via rail. DFH, the most reputable rail freight forwarder in China, has the expertise required to transport goods to Europe from China. Our trained staff is knowledgeable in the process of applying for customs clearance during shipping. With over a decade of experience, we have successfully shipped goods from China to various regions around the world.  

Pros of rail freight

  • Reliable schedules and transit times

  • Cost-effective and quick deliveries over long distances

  • Ideal for transporting goods of large quantities

  • Rail freight has a record for being safe in comparison to other modes

  • Is environmental friendly because of lower emissions

  • Quicker delivery in comparison to ocean freight

Cons of rail freight 

  • Goods can only be shipped to Russia, Europe and other regions in Asia

  • The railway line is not flexible

  • Door to door shipping is not possible with just trains

  • Not a great option for short distances

Rail freight corridor

The establishment of the rail freight corridor between China and European nations has facilitated the seamless movement of goods between destinations. The New Silk Road initiative has effectively integrated multiple countries into a single market.   The establishment of the rail freight corridor between China and European nations has facilitated the seamless movement of goods between destinations. The New Silk Road initiative has effectively integrated multiple countries into a single market.  

This railway network currently consists of three main operational corridors.

  • Northern Rail Corridor

This route connects Europe with Russia. It follows the same course as the Trans-Siberian Express.

  • Central Rail Corridor

This route traverses through Kazakhstan and links with the Northern rail corridor.

  • Southern Rail Corridor

The longest of the three operational corridors is the route that covers Georgia, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Iran, and Azerbaijan, ultimately connecting with the European rail network.  

rail freight to china

FAQs about Rail Freight:

What is rail freight?

Rail freight refers to the transportation of goods by train from one location to another. It is a mode of freight transport that offers cost-effective and efficient shipping options.

Why choose rail freight over other freight modes?

Rail freight has several advantages over other modes of freight transportation. It is cheaper than air freight and faster than sea freight, making it a cost-effective and time-efficient option for shipping goods.

Which major cities in China have a reliable railway network?

Major cities in China with reliable railway networks include Chongqing, Zhengzhou, Suzhou, Wuhan, Changsha, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Xi'an, Qingdao, Shanghai, and Yiwu. These cities serve as important hubs for rail freight transportation.

Are there limitations on what goods to ship via rail freight?

Yes, there are limitations on what goods can be shipped via rail freight. Certain items, such as livestock, may be restricted due to safety concerns.

Are rail freight shipments always transported in containers?

Rail freight shipments can be transported in containers, but it depends on the type of goods being shipped. Bulk cargo, such as petroleum, grains, iron ore, coal, or ballast, can be transported without containers.

Can I ship a single container using rail freight service?

Yes, it is possible to ship a single container using rail freight service. You can also ship half a container, and the same incoterms apply as in other freight modes.

What is bulk cargo?

Bulk cargo refers to large volumes of goods that are offloaded and loaded by dropping or pouring at specific points. It can include items like petroleum, grains, iron ore, coal, or ballast.

How much does it cost to ship from China via rail freight?

The cost of shipping from China via rail freight is typically cheaper compared to air freight. It is similar to sea freight costs, and there are no volumetric charges or excess surcharges.

What routes are used for shipping to Russia?

The routes used for shipping to Russia from China include the Eurasian railway network. This network passes through cities like Yiwu, Shanghai, and Kazakhstan, and finally reaches Russia, with the final destination often being in London.

How long does it take to deliver goods to Europe from China via rail?

Delivery time for goods from China to Europe via rail freight is usually 15-20 days, which is faster than sea freight but slower than air freight.

Is there any insurance available over rail freight?

Yes, insurance options are available for goods being shipped via rail freight, especially for high-value shipments.

What do the terms carload and intermodal mean in rail freight?

In rail freight terminology, carload refers to cargo that remains on the train for the entire journey, while intermodal is used when the shipping process combines rail transport with other modes, such as roadways.

My final destination is not served by rail. Can I still ship by rail?

Yes, it is still possible to ship goods via rail freight even if your final destination is not directly served by rail. You can transport the goods to the nearest rail station and then use other modes of transport, such as trucks, to reach your desired destination.

Can perishable goods be shipped via train?

Yes, perishable goods can be shipped via train. There are specific containers designed for carrying temperature-sensitive goods, similar to reefer containers used in sea freight.

Is it possible to track cargo shipped via rail freight?

Yes, it is possible to track cargo shipped via rail freight. You can track your consignment using the provided shipping line details and bill of lading number.

What are the documents involved in rail freight shipping?

The specific documents involved in rail freight shipping may vary but typically include shipping line details, bill of lading, commercial invoice, packing list, and any necessary permits or certificates

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