China Railway Express

Most trains departing China now fully loaded

Image: RCG

In the first half of 2019, the seven most important Chinese localities on the New Silk Road reported a loaded container ratio of over 94 percent on international freight trains heading for the west. These localities handled about 73 percent of all the China-Europe cargo trains. This indicates that the goal of reducing the number of empty containers departing China has been achieved.

In September last year, the Chinese government issued a new restriction on Eurasian rail freight traffic. Only fully loaded trains could depart China to the west. A train with 40 full containers and one empty would not be subsidised. Although the rules had been in place since 2017, they were not actually applied till then.


In an interview with the Chinese state-run Global Times, the China Railway Corporation (CRC), which is the sole operator of freight trains on the Eurasian corridor, revealed its current state of affairs.

The proportion of loaded containers to all the containers transported has seen a marked improvement in 2018 and the first half of this year, the CRC reportedly said. “In 2018, the ratio for outbound trips was 94 percent while that for returning trips was 71 percent. During the first half of this year, the ratio for outbound trips improved further to 98 percent with an 82 percent ratio for returning trips”, the news outlet reports based on the interview.

Thing of the past

The interview was in response to an investigation by the Chinese Business Journal, a newspaper supervised by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, which concluded an extremely low rate of full containers on outbound trains.

The transport of empty containers had been common practice, but has largely vanished since the restrictions were implemented in September last year, the CRC said. “When localities were competing for hub status years ago, the issue of empty containers was serious. However, as the service has grown in scale, and industry players learned to discipline themselves and the concept of high-quality development took root, the phenomenon has become a thing of the past”, the Global Times reports referring to the interview.


To ensure high-quality growth and optimised use of rail transportation capacity, the CRC said it has since 2018 placed restrictive measures on the ratio of empty containers but has also given due consideration for the specific situation such as the return of refrigerated containers.

In the interview with the Chinese news outlet, it cited other reasons such as route testing, structural imbalance between China and EU trade, and the market-driven relocation of empty containers, which are themselves a resource, causing empty containers to be loaded on CR Express trains. Apart from the restrictions, the imbalance between east- and westbound traffic is gradually disappearing. This also helps, the CRC concluded.

Also read:

Only fully loaded trains to depart from China

Author: Majorie van Leijen

Majorie van Leijen is the editor-in-chief of, the online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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