UK-bound intermodal restarts from Xi’an

Bell Tower (DongLui) in Xi'an

UK logistics operator and freight forwarder Davies Turner has restarted its fixed-day, weekly direct import service from China to the UK. The rail departure terminal is Xi’an. The original departure terminal for the service, Wuhan, remains under movement restrictions.

Davies Turner is best know in the UK for their green and red lined lorries and their smartly finished warehouse complexes around the country. Abroad through, their highest-profile asset rides the rails of the New Silk Road. The company has been leveraging its road-going network, by connecting with trans-continental rail operations, to complete a China-UK freight bridge.

Express China Rail

A managed transhipment operation, branded Express China Rail, uses several transport carriers in an intermodal model for the industry. Tony Cole, head of supply chain services, said that they still had not quite resumed business as usual. “Our Express China Rail Service did not operate during the Chinese New Year holiday break and its suspension has been further extended due to the Covid-19 coronavirus. With Wuhan, the epicentre of the epidemic, the rail service will now depart from the Xi’an rail hub, directly into Duisburg in Germany”.

Xi’an is not all ancient walls and terracotta warriors (Davies Turner)

The walled city of Xi’an, the ancient capital of China, has grown enormously in the last decade. It is not just a freight hub. The city – home to the famous terracotta warriors – is also central to the China Highspeed Rail network, with a vast new purpose built station. As a designated commercial centre, Xi’an is intended to generate economic activity, and there is plenty evidence of that. The city is well placed to take up traffic displaced from neighbouring Hubei province.

Delivery to the UK  

Factories in Wuhan were due to reopen today, 11 March, but that does not mean an immediate resumption of rail services. For now, Davies Turner expects to be operating Xi’an to Duisburg. However, the dance moves get a little more intricate at the European end, regardless of the railhead.

After arrival at Duisburg, on the border with the Netherlands, it is all change, says Cole. “Containers will be then trucked under bond to the port of Rotterdam and transported by ferry to Purfleet, on the River Thames for on-carriage by truck to Davies Turner’s distribution centre, near Dartford, east of London, where they will be discharged, customs cleared and delivered”.

Room for demand growth

The present schedule recommences on 13 March, with a departure from Xi’an rail terminal. Thereafter, the plan is for weekly departures until Wuhan is out of lockdown. Davies Turner plans initially to offer a single weekly departure. They say this could rise to twice-weekly departures, depending on demand. The transit time between Xi’an and Duisburg is approximately 18 days.

Davies Turner would be happy to restart services from Wuhan, maybe even as an addition (Graphic Davies Turner)

There is mixed cargo already on its way. “We have rail bookings to hand which relate to frames for glasses, plastic film, metal parts, tooling, as well as fashion goods”, said Cole, ahead of departure from Xi’an. He was expecting further consignments to be added.

Antidote to isolation

New Silk Road transit has proved a commercial success for the company. “Since we launched the dedicated weekly direct consol service in November 2018 we have seen it go from strength to strength”, says Cole. “Bookings have increased continually. The service offers a very competitive alternative to air freight in terms of cost, and considerably faster transit times compared to the ocean freight alternative.”

The restart of the service is good news for manufacturers at both ends of the New Silk Road. While the challenges of coping with Covid-19 go literally viral, at least this flow is the antidote to trade isolation. 

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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