As many as 5,000 cargo trains from China have reportedly made the direct trip to Europe since 2011, marking a milestone in Beijing’s plan to revitalise the ancient Silk Road trade routes across Eurasia.
The 5000th China-Europe cargo train left Zhengzhou, capital of China’s Henan Province, and arrived in Hamburg, Germany on Wednesday, carrying clothes, auto parts and electronics, CCTV reported.
Since the first China-Europe container train departed from southwest China's Chongqing to Germany's Duisburg six years ago, there have been 52 routes opened between 32 Chinese cities and 32 cities across 12 European countries.
The shortest travel time for rail freight between China and Europe is ten days, providing an alternative shipping method that is cheaper than air freight and faster than shipping by sea.
"After the launch of China Railway Express to Europe, we have provided a third option for clients who need fast transport and are sensitive about price. The market is huge," Fang Xudong, who is in charge of the Yiwu-Madrid line on the China Railway Express to Europe, told CCTV.
Demand for China-Europe cargo train services have been growing largely thanks to China’s Belt and Road initiative, which seeks to boost trade through massive investment in railroads, ports and other infrastructure linking Asia to Europe and Africa.
"It took us 55 months to increase from one train to the 1,000th, eight and a half months to increase to the second 1,000th train, five and a half months to increase to the third 1,000th train and four and a half months to reach the fourth 1,000th train," said Zhong Cheng, vice general manager of the China Railway Container Transport Company.
But while the China-Europe cargo train links have grown quickly, operators have found it difficult to make a profit and find enough cargo to fill all the containers, especially on the way back from Europe.
Yan Hong, deputy general manager of Hao International Logistics Co, told Global Times that the development has been too fast and that there are many overlapping routes.
“The cake is only this big and everyone is trying to get a piece," he said