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More freight train services linked China and Europe in the first 10 months of this year than the record number for all of last year, demonstrating their strong resilience amid the COVID-19 pandemic and role in stabilizing the global supply chain.
China State Railway Group, the national railway service operator, said 12,605 services carrying nearly 1.22 million containers operated between China and Europe from January to October. The number of trains was up 26 percent year-on-year, while freight volume was 33 percent higher.
Last year, some 12,400 freight train services carrying 1.14 million containers operated between the two regions. The number of trains was 50 percent higher than in 2019, and freight volume was up 56 percent year-on-year.
The group said the steady and safe operation of the services has seen them win favor in the international logistics market and become an important strategic channel for global trade. The company has been promoting the high-quality development of the services to boost a shift in transport structure.
There were 1,262 China-Europe freight train services operated last month.
The company has drawn up plans to increase the capacity of overseas corridors, such as by opening new routes and offering new transport models.
The number of services along new routes rose last month to account for 35 percent of overall trips, up from about 20 percent in the first half of the year.
More return trips were handled in the first 10 months of the year to help to reduce costs, with the ratio of inbound services to outbound ones rising to 81 percent.
On Thursday, a train carrying 50 containers filled with cargo including guitars and electronic supplies departed from Guiyang, capital of southwestern China's Guizhou province, and headed to Moscow. It was the first direct China-Europe freight train service to leave Guizhou.
Products from Guizhou had been shipped via other southwestern cities, such as Chongqing and Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, since June last year, but the direct service is more convenient for local manufacturers.
To improve the cargo-handling capacity of border railway ports, expansion projects have been carried out in places such as Ereenhot in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region and Horgos and Alataw Pass in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.
On Nov 5, a freight train loaded with furniture, electronic devices, anti-epidemic supplies and other goods left Alataw Pass on its way to Duisburg, Germany.
It was the 5,000th China-Europe freight train to travel via Alataw Pass this year.
With the COVID-19 pandemic casting a shadow on the global supply chain, China-Europe freight trains are being favored by more companies because of their stable operation and relatively lower costs, said Xu Yueheng, from the customs authority at Alataw Pass. Xu added that 23 new China-Europe freight train routes have been opened at the port this year.
Major imports that pass through the port consist of automobiles and accessories, cotton yarn and timber, while exported goods mainly include household appliances and daily necessities.
Ahead of the fourth China International Import Expo early this month, a China-Europe freight train carrying a variety of exhibits arrived in Shanghai from Hamburg, Germany. It was the first time CIIE exhibits had been transported via the freight train service for inclusion in the event. Thirtyfive containers weighing some 460 metric tons were filled in Hamburg and Duisburg in Germany and Malaszewicze in Poland before traveling to China.
Wang Jinqiu, chairman of the train's operating company in Shanghai, said that using the train rather than the traditional sea route had cut the transportation time by half.
With over 70 routes, the freight train services have provided transport support for the socioeconomic development of countries and regions involved in the Belt and Road Initiative.
The blocking of the Suez Canal by a stuck ship in March led to an increase in inquiries about China-Europe freight train services.
The network has now reached more than 170 cities in 23 European countries, transporting more than 50,000 kinds of products.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the train services have assisted with international cooperation against the virus.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a news conference earlier this year that the services, like the contemporary railway version of camel caravans, have played an important role during the pandemic in keeping logistics unimpeded and ensuring a stable supply of materials to China, Europe and countries along the routes.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the departure of the first China-Europe freight train, which traveled from Chongqing to Duisburg.
Xinhua contributed to this story.