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International Freight Train Service from China: New Opportunities for Export


What: In the last decade China has been expanding its international freight train infrastructure to serve countries in Asia, the Middle East, Russia, and Europe.

Why: China is seeking alternatives to costly air freight and slow sea freight to increase both volume and efficiency in its trade programs and export infrastructure. An enhanced international freight train network will help China take pressure off its busy sea ports as well as bolster its interior, landlocked provinces and regions, many of which are home to China’s successful free trade zones.

In recent years, China has been exploring – and expanding – its international freight rail service as an additional method to transport products and goods to its trading partners. While China has had an extensive domestic rail network used for both passenger travel and industrial purposes since the mid-nineteenth century, the country is now working to build more international Chinese freight train routes and connections across Asia, the Middle East, and even into Europe under its “One Road, One Belt” project.

With massive subsidies from the Chinese government, an increased spending on infrastructure, and keen interest from international trading partners, China has expanded its railway container traffic between Mainland China and Europe over the span of three years (2014-2017), from 25,000 TEU (Twenty-Foot Equivalent Unit) in 2014 to 240,000 TEU in 2017. While technically there isn’t one train on one route that originates in China and terminates in Europe, there are three networks of rail freight services that connect China with continental Europe: China’s standard gauge networks, a 1520mm-gauge network covering Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Russia and parts of Eastern Europe, and standard gauge in Western Europe. In addition, the Chinese freight gets transferred to different trains along its route from China to its final destination.  

China also is investing in linking Mainland China to several South East Asian countries, including Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore as part of the Kunming-Singapore railway project.


China is seeking an alternative to its primary freight shipping options, and rail is a viable option. (Air freight is expensive and sea freight is slow.) By investing in and bolstering the inland infrastructure, China plans to take pressure of its busy sea ports and take advantage of its free trade zones, many of which are located in China’s interior far from the coast. This massive project is a modern re-imagination of China’s historic Silk Road. In one example, manufacturers of high tech goods can deliver their products to Europe via rail in approximately 15 days versus 45 days or more via sea.

These efforts are already starting to have a big effect, especially for high tech manufacturers in Chengdu, Chongqing and Zhengzhou who can now get their products to Europe in ~15 days by rail rather than ~45 days by sea.

Below you will find a handy chart that shows the distance, time zone, and additional information for several world capitols in terms of rail travel.

CountryCapital CityDistance from BeijingTime Zones DifferenceAdditional information
North KoreaPyongyang809 km1+ hourLink
MongoliaUlaanbaatar1169 km0Link
VietnamHanoi2332 km-1 hourLink
KyrgyzstanBishkek3474 km-2 hoursLink
KazakhstanAstana3655 km-2 hoursLink
PakistanIslamabad3888 km-3 hoursLink
UzbekistanTashkent3940 km-3 hoursLink
TajikistanDushanbe4060 km-3 hoursLink
AfghanistanKabul4177 km-3.5 hoursLink
TurkmenistanAshgabat4943 km-3 hoursLink
AzerbaijanBaku5554 km-4 hoursLink
IranTehran5610 km-4.5 hoursLink
RussiaMoscow5800 km-5 hoursLink
GeorgiaTbilisi5852 km-4 hoursLink
FinlandHelsinki6329 km-6 hoursLink
EstoniaTallinn6372 km-6 hoursLink
UkraineKiev6458 km-6 hoursLink
BelarusMinsk6475 km-5 hoursLink
LatviaRiga6524 km-6 hoursLink
LithuaniaVilnius6570 km-6 hoursLink
SwedenStockholm6716 km-7 hoursLink
TurkeyAnkara6841 km-6 hoursLink
PolandWarsaw6948 km-7 hoursLink
NorwayOslo7032 km-7 hoursLink
HungaryBudapest7349 km-7 hoursLink
GermanyBerlin7366 km-7 hoursLink
SlovakiaBratislava7428 km-7 hoursLink
Czech RepublicPrague7464 km-7 hoursLink
AustriaVienna7469 km-7 hoursLink
NetherlandsAmsterdam7831 km-7 hoursLink
BelgiumBrussels7971 km-7 hoursLink
ItalyRome8134 km-7 hoursLink
United KingdomLondon8150 km-8 hoursLink
FranceParis8226 km-7 hoursLink
SpainMadrid9233 km-7 hoursLink

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