The approximate transit time to complete the rail journey from China to mainland Europe is currently two weeks. Sea freight can often take over a month and air freight, whilst faster, is a more expensive, option. This positions the freight train as a happy medium between the two. However, as great as this option sounds, we’re not entirely convinced that it’s going to prove as easily accessible as its alternatives such as our sea-air logistics service.
Although in principle this new service has potential, there are some drawbacks currently. Whilst it is one continuous route, there are different rail gauges in different countries. There is no single train that can run along the whole route, which means containers have to be reloaded at various stages throughout their passage.
Our main concern is space. Cargo ships used for sea freight can carry more than 20,000 20ft containers – each. Fleets of these container ships are setting off all around the world every day. The China to London rail only travels once per week and has nowhere near the capacity of even one ship. To put it into perspective: In a year the railway moves an equivalent of 85,000 20ft containers. If a cargo ship can carry 18,000 20ft containers in one voyage, in a year the freight train moves less containers than 5 ships. With hundreds of ships setting sail from China every day – this means that in a single day, cargo ships transport multiple times the amount of goods the train has the capacity to move in one entire year. The freight train’s capacity is simply not large enough to significantly support the demand. Additionally, the convenience of railway travel may prove attractive to the larger businesses, which means that one might expect all the space to be taken up by a small number of large contracts which could lead to inflated prices.
The capacity for the return leg to China is a lot more accessible, as most operators are looking to fill the empty containers, making the return journey a more profitable return leg. Hence, the rates are approximately half the price for the export to China. In summary, we believe that unless you are looking to export from Europe to China, whilst rail could be a great solution in the future, it is still very much in its infancy. If you are seeking a solution faster than ocean freight and more cost effective than air freight, our sea-air service is, in most cases, a more sensible option.