Friday, July 6, 2018

"In Europe's east, a border town strains under China's Silk Road train boom"

From Reuters, June 26:
When cargo trains from China began arriving at the Polish border town of Malaszewicze almost a decade ago, they were considered a novelty - able to ship laptops and cars to Europe in as little as two weeks, but extremely infrequent, with one service a month.

However a surge in the number of trains over the past year, fueled by Beijing’s plans to grow trade along ancient Silk Road routes to Europe, has left authorities scrambling to meet demand that has ballooned to as many as 200 locomotives a month.

Rail shipments have experienced delays of over ten days at land ports in both Europe and China, bogged down by insufficient infrastructure and paperwork pileups, shippers say. That congestion is anticipated to worsen as Chinese authorities encourage a further ramp up in volumes.

The situation illustrates how China’s Belt and Road initiative is delivering some successes but also how its partners are struggling to keep up.

The rail network, used by companies like Hewlett Packard, the sports gear company Decathlon and the carmaker Volvo, handled 3,673 train trips between China and Europe in 2017, up from 1,702 in 2016 and just 17 in 2011, according to China Railway, the national operator.

The network remains unprofitable and heavily supported by subsidies, but Chinese city authorities have launched new services with fervor after it was subsumed under the four-year-old Belt and Road initiative.

In 2016, China’s top state planner named the network “China Railway Express” and said it wants train trips to hit an annual number of 5,000 by 2020.

By April, the number of regular rail services linking China and Europe jumped from just one in 2011, between Chongqing and Duisburg in Germany, to 65, connecting 43 Chinese cities and 42 destinations in 14 countries including Spain and Britain, China Railway said on its website.

Carsten Pottharst, managing director of InterRail Europe, is among a number of freight forwarders who expressed frustration to Reuters about congestion on the network, citing insufficient government investment in European railway infrastructure....MUCH MORE