London welcomes first direct Chinese freight train

Better times on the Barking line - the first New Silk Road train arrives just over three years ago in 2017

History was made today when the first direct freight train from China to the UK arrived in London. Hailed by some as the symbol of a new era of post-Brexit trade between Britain and the Far East, the ‘East Wind’ – rolled into DB Cargo’s London Eurohub just after 13.00 UK time, laden with consumer and household goods. 

Click here to see a gallery of photos of the train’s arrival

Hauling 34 wagons, the train left the coastal province of Zheijang in Eastern China on New Year’s Day and has since travelled some 12,000 kilometres. Three different companies were involved in running the test service, which presented some mammoth engineering challenges along the way, not least the track gauge adjustments while the train crossed borders spanning China, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Poland, Belgium, France and finally the United Kingdom.

Chinese Railways

CRIMT, a subsidary of the China Railway Corporation, awarded overall responsibility for the service to the Switzerland-based InterRail Group, which then subcontracted the route into three sectors. KTZE, a subsidiary of Kazakh Railways, moved the train from Dostyk in Kasakhstan to Brest in Belarus, while the European section from Malaszewice in Poland to Duisburg in Germany was operated by PKP and DB Cargo respectively. The final section, including under the Channel Tunnel and onto Barking Freight Terminal, in the east of the capital, was the responsibility of DB Cargo UK.

Cheaper than a plane and faster than a ship, the 18-day service is a key part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ strategy to connect Asia with Europe and Africa along the ancient Silk Road trading routes. London becomes the 15th city across 10 European cities now connected directly by rail with China.

Trade connections

The China Railway Corporation said that economic and trade cooperation between China and UK had maintained a ‘stable development’ over the past few years, and that the launch of the freight rail service to London was an important step in furthering trade connections.

The containers were operated by China’s Yiwu Timex Industrial Investment Co, which has been running freight trains twice a week between China and Madrid in Spain via the German city of Duisburg for more than a year. The London service will run once a week during its trial period. Ten containers were unloaded at Duisburg, and the remainder reloaded onto special DB container platforms designed specifically for Channel Tunnel rail traffic.

Carsten Pottharst, Managing Director of InterRail Europe GmbH, said: “In offering such products and establishing new routes, InterRail benefits from the good cooperation with its longtime partners.  For several years already, InterRail has been active as a leading operator of trains between China and Europe; especially during the past 24 months, the company added new products and trade lanes to its portfolio.”

Huge statement

Brunel Shipping, the customs handling agent for its Chinese partner 123 Logistics, is responsible for handling the UK customs clearance and distribution for Chinese exports, and collecting UK exports for the return train to China. Operations Director Mike White said: “This is a huge statement for trade relations between the UK and China, and it shows that Britain – post-Brexit – is open for business,” he said “I think it’s been a logistics success by ensuring that the train has been compliant with all the various gauge change requirements along the route.

“We believe this is going to change the way a lot of forwarders and shippers view their imports and exports for China, particularly with air freight. Instead of a 30-day import time from China, there is now a rail option of just 14 days. Also, for any shippers who were booking sea freight, but then turned to air freight if goods were late in being manufactured, they will now have this rail option at 50 per cent less cost and time.”

Natural progression

“The service already operates weekly to Duisburg in Germany and Spain, so the next natural progression was finding a locomotive that was compatible with the Channel Tunnel and enhancing the service to London. The credit has to go to Chinese State Railways and the Chinese government in their initiative and also to the Chinese entrepreneurs who have supported this venture, namely our partners 123 Logistics and Yiwu Timex.”

Watch the video of the arrival here:

Author: Simon Weedy

Simon is a journalist for - a dedicated online platform for all the news about the rail freight sector

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