"China trains are among the corona winners," observes Hans-Joachim Koske, who is responsible for the division as General Manager at a. hartrodt in Hamburg. Supply and demand have increased enormously, especially for connections to and from North Rhine-Westphalia. Between January and April, for example, a. hartrodt recorded 745 percent more shipments in import and export by rail between Duisburg, Neuss, Cologne and China compared with the same period last year. "We exceeded our target for 2019 in the first four months of 2020," says Koske. This was due to cancelled ship departures, and customers also discovered "rail as an alternative to air freight".
High departure frequency
"The frequency of departures to China is the highest in North Rhine-Westphalia," emphasizes Andreas Hadamer, Branch Manager Düsseldorf/Ratingen at a. hartrodt. The rail operators along the New Silk Roads have massively expanded their offers for full container load (FCL) and consolidated containers (LCL) "to numerous departures from and to various terminals". According to Hadamer, the main terminal in Duisburg is supplemented by departures to and from Neuss and Cologne. "Xi'an as a hub is currently served three times a week from Duisburg and four times from China to Germany," he says. In addition, "onward connections from Duisburg to other European countries" have been expanded.
Price difference to ocean freight shrinks
"Export customers in China are often not located in the ports," says Hadamer. This reduces the price advantage of sea freight, which normally amounts to up to 500 US dollars per TEU. For Chinese destinations in the hinterland, a. hartrodt can offer an "almost identical price for onward carriage from the seaport". According to Koske, railway stations within a radius of 1,500 kilometres are also considered. However, imports from China are "significantly more expensive" by rail than by sea, according to Hadamer. Even in corona times, the trains are not used to full capacity in pairs – although the manager expects "a significant increase in imports of medical articles" from China.
Depending on the destination, a. hartrodt offers the China trains on the northern route via Russia (Polaris Train) and on the southern route via Kazakhstan and Russia (Sirius Train). "Alternatively, the connection via Mukran and Kaliningrad could be interesting," says Hadamer.