3D Modeling Restore:How useful is the CHINA RAILWAY Express (CR Express)?

数据新闻实验室黄欣然,白宇航,邓学良,王冰,黄丹虹,实习生曾雯睿 2023-10-23 18:58

    On July 29th at 10:18 a.m., the X8020 train, loaded with nearly one hundred containers departed from Yiwu, known as the "World Supermarket". Over the following 21 days, this train, which boasts the longest global mileage and passes through most countries will travel along an ancient trade route that once connected Asia and Europe crossing seven countries from east to west with a total distance of 13,052 kilometers. Ultimately, it will reach the largest Chinese wholesale market in Europe. Madrid, Spain.

    The departure of this train marks a significant milestone for the China-Europe Railway Express in 2023, reaching a goal of 10,000 trains running 22 days ahead of the previous year's schedule.

    China Railway Express, a concept both strange and familiar to many in China has faced its share of skepticism. "Costly", "logistically challenging" and "subsidizing foreign nations"...... these labels have been attached to CR Express. However, others argue that the CR Express represents a quiet trade revolution across the Eurasian continent serving as a massive experiment to reshape the global supply chain.

    What exactly is the CR Express? And what purpose does it serve?

    To understand its significance, let's rewind to 2011, when the "Chongqing-Xinjiang-Europe" international freight train made its debut in Chongqing and began transporting locally manufactured electronic goods like LCD screens and laptops over thousands of miles to Duisburg, Germany, henceforth setting the stage for rail transportation in China-Europe trade. In the following years, similar "Xinjiang-Europe" trains emerged from cities like Wuhan and Zhengzhou. In 2016, China Railway Group unified these train services under the brand "China Railway Express". 

    The so-called CR Express, in simple terms, represents the international multimodal container trains running between China and Europe with fixed train numbers, routes, and timetables.

    The CR Express consists of three main routes. The Western route originates from three ports in Xinjiang and passes through Kazakhstan and other countries. The Central route starts from Inner Mongolia's Erenhot port passes through Mongolia and connects to the Siberian Railway in Russia. The Eastern route begins at Manzhouli, Inner Mongolia, and joins the Siberian Railway in Russia.

     Given the need to traverse multiple countries and regions, the operation of the CR Express differs significantly from that of regular trains. Instead of driving straight towards the destination, it resembles a relay race spanning thousands of miles. Each time the train reaches a border crossing point, it needs to go through customs clearance and railway departure procedures. Then the train heads to the container transshipment yards on the foreign side of the border. Once the containers are unloaded from the train import declarations and railway entry procedures are carried out. In addition to the complex entry and exit procedures, every time the CR Express crosses international borders, it may have to change the train operators. Because railway gauges differ between countries, the width between train wheels varies. Chinese trains cannot directly operate on foreign railway lines. Therefore, some trains need to replace their wheelsets and others need to transfer containers to another train.

    Now you might wonder why go through all the trouble of developing rail transport when air or sea transport seems faster or more cost-effective? In fact, the very "drawbacks" mentioned above are the strengths of the CR Express. In terms of transport costs, it's just one-fifth of air transport. Regarding transit time, it's a quarter of sea transport. This balance makes the CR Express a "Hexagon Warrior" in long-distance transport. 

    But its utility is much more than that. Let's envisage a scenario like this if more and more cargo is transported through CR Express, making it increasingly vital in China-Europe trade, what will happen to its originating cities? Let's take Chongqing, one of the earliest cities to open the CR Express, as an example. Coffee sold from Yunnan to Europe would be first shipped to Chongqing. The same goes for high-end instruments exported from Germany to Southeast Asia. They will then be sent to Singapore by air freight. The development of foreign trade brings industries and talent. As many consumer and intermediate goods are shipped from Chongqing, it makes sense for companies to establish themselves there. International brands like HP, Asus, and Bosch have set up factories in the city.

     This "spillover effect" of the CR Express has benefited many cities. Zhengzhou has become a logistics hub, not only for China but for East Asia. Xi'an International Port has risen to become a world-class inland port.         Furthermore, the CR Express carries profound significance. It is known to all that the European Union is one of China's most important trading partners with bilateral trade accounting for over 10% of China's total foreign trade value each year. In ancient times, trade between China and these countries was conducted via the Silk Road. Therefore, the advent of the CR Express not only revived the Silk Road but also pioneers a brand-new global supply chain concept based on this historical notion, which helps further facilitate the trade between the Asian and European continents and forge an even closer economic tie between Asian and European countries. Goods from China ranging from ceramics and tea to photovoltaic and electronic products can now be conveniently shipped to Europe. Similarly, many intermediate products from Europe find their way into China filling gaps in certain industrial chains.

     Following the path of the CR Express, we can see many significant projects in various countries springing up around its construction such as the Hungary-Serbia Railway, the Belarus-China Industrial Park, and the Uzbekistan Photovoltaic Power Station.

    Today the CR Express is increasingly welcomed by enterprises from various countries. Since 2013, the number of CR Express trips has grown at an average annual rate exceeding 90%. In the first half of 2023, a total of 8,641 trips were made, transporting 936,000 TEUs of goods, a year-on-year increase of 16% and 30% respectively, which demonstrated robust momentum. As of August, a total of 86 CR Express routes at a speed of 120 km per hour have been laid within China, reaching 216 cities in 25 European countries. Different regions are gradually connected, and lines are weaved into a transport network, ensuring the stable and smooth operation of the international industrial chain.

    It is safe to say that in a world where globalization is facing challenges and the global supply chain is undergoing profound changes, on the tenth anniversary of the "Belt and Road" initiative, the CR Express has already become a global brand of land transportation. Looking ahead, this continuous stream of "Steel Camel Caravan" will, in an ancient yet modern way, reshape the world's economic and trade landscape.

(作者:黄欣然,白宇航,邓学良,王冰,黄丹虹,实习生曾雯睿 编辑:梁宇芳)