The China Railway Express (CR Express), also known as the "Belt and Road on rail," is driving China's efforts to boost connectivity with Eurasian markets.
Launched in March 2011, the CR Express was earlier known as YU-XIN-OU, or the Chongqing-Xinjiang-Europe International Railway.
By the end of March 2019, the rail had connected 60 Chinese cities with 50 cities across 15 European countries, with over 14,000 cargo trains on the network.
The annual value of goods transported by rail hit 14.5 billion U.S. dollars by 2017, a 23-fold increase than that of 2011, and nearly 2,000 types of goods are being transported, including vehicles, laptops, food items, garments, and small commodities.
The competitive edge of CR Express is that it's cheaper than air freight and faster than traveling by sea.
However, with the enormous growth in the market of all participants, rail congestion at land ports has become a shared concern for shippers.
Transshipment at cross-border land ports is also a challenge due to different gauge standards, indicating the significance of efficient transshipment of containers between 1,435-mm-gauge and 1,520-mm-gauge wagons.
Currently, there are two major ports for transshipment: the Alashankou Pass station between China and Kazakhstan, and the Brest-Małaszewicze station between Belarus and Poland.
Multiple measures have been introduced along the route to improve efficiency and ease rail congestion.
For example, the Alashankou Pass station on the Chinese side offers a one-stop service, cutting the customs passing time from 24 hours to within 30 minutes nowadays.
New technology has played a vital role on the Express as well. Special containers based on energy storage technology were invented by Chinese engineers to ensure the quality of goods.
Big-data-based intermodal transportation, which utilizes multiple modes of transportation, including rail, ship, and road while improving security, reducing damage and loss, and allowing freight to be transported faster, has also been encouraged to increase the variety of goods.
There is much more to expect from the CR Express as the Chinese government has mapped plans for its further development-- the annual trips will reach 5,000 while trans-continent mail service will be normalized, en-route logistics service platform will be completed, and the one-stop service will be covered by 2020.