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Clear blue water emerging between rail and sea for China traffic

[ March 17, 2021   //   ]

Rail traffic between China and Europe has increased by 10-15% recently, says Rachelle Slingerland (pictured below), business development manager at shortsea and intermodal operator, Samskip Logistics. She says that capacity shortages and intense sea freight rate inflation are giving an extra push to rail, as a fresh crop of long distance shippers find the speed, reliability and inland penetration available from multimodal options compelling.

With transit times between 16-18 days comparing to around 35 days for Shanghai-Rotterdam 40ft by sea, speed is certainly a key advantage for rail, with the superiority gap widening as distances lengthen between Chinese seaports and locations inland. She believes that coronavirus-driven shipping container shortages are providing a platform for transcontinental rail services to shine in ways that some shippers will find difficult to disregard once logistics balance is restored to deep sea trades.

She adds: “These routes are attractive for higher value products, including electric bicycles, laptops, smartphones and other electrical goods, and clothing westbound, with eastbound moves for cars, alcohol and furniture: temperature-controlled loads move more efficiently both ways.”

All-water operators are currently quoting waits of two to four weeks for available containers, and another two weeks for the second and it can now be cheaper to ship freight by rail than it is by sea: on a spot basis.

Rail moves also generate 25% less CO2 than sea transportation, she claims.

The Chinese authorities are meanwhile investing in improving the rail infrastructure and terminal capacity. Slingerland says local Samskip Logistics offices in China may soon recruit additional staff with a sole focus on managing Silk Road rail freight.

In August 2020, Samskip launched a direct rail service between Amsterdam and Duisburg to support its three-times weekly train service connecting Xi’an and Changsha to Duisburg.

Rail shuttles also link Duisburg to Sweden, Denmark, Poland, Italy and while the Duisburg-Amsterdam service connects into Samskip’s three-times weekly departures to Hull and Tilbury.

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