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Is the Sino-European railway efficient for shipping?

Many have heard of the new rail connections between different Chinese and European cities. Just like the Transiberian Railway connected the West and the East, the Sino-European railway is a huge infrastructural effort, the One Belt promoted by Xi Jinping, to connect the two extremities of the Eurasian continent.
But is it useful to still invest in railroads in the era of air traveling and shipping?
Rail shipping from China to Europe is certainly slower than air shipping, but it allows to ship much bigger cargo, and it does not have specific restrictions on flammable and explosive items which are entirely prohibited on any plane – including useful health products, such as sanitizers with more than 70% alcohol concentration. While there is still not a high speed railroad to optimize the shipping time, certain parts of Europe and China do have high speed railways and are still investing on them. One of the issues is in the Russian territory, where rails have been built with different standards than Chinese and European ones, which means the train must be changed, increasing the time and costs needed.
Striking a comparison between air, sea, road and rail shipment from China to Europe, we would notice that:
air shipment is the fastest, since it is possible to reach the destination airport in one day, but has the biggest limitations on cargo by size and type of products. The price can be the highest as well;
– sea shipment is very slow in this example – often requiring around 30 days, but pricing is considerably better than air shipment, especially for heavy cargo. Having to rely on the presence of ports means that it is not always available in certain countries, for example Mongolia on the East, and Hungary or Belarus in the West;
– road shipment is not really advised for such a situation – due to the fact the drivers and the vehicles must pass border clearance of many countries, and this means there are many chances for things to get complicated. It is not that efficient when compared with air and sea shipments.
– rail shipment is perhaps a good compromise between sea and air shipments (according to some couriers, the price is, in average, estimated to be half of the air shipment, and time half of the sea shipment), with the only extra issue of border clearance, which can complicate things. For example, while there were massive shipments of gloves from East and South-East Asia to Europe, many trains got blocked at the Mongolian-Russian border for inspection, delaying deliveries. An advantage of rail shipping is that it sometimes is the only alternative to air shipment in landlocked countries, especially those far away from ports, such as in Central Asia.

To choose the right shipping method, you need to consider the following:
1. Where you are shipping from: if the place is not close to a port, or the port is located in another country, sea shipment is not advised. Better checking what’s the best option between rail, road and air shipments;
2. Where you are shipping to: as above, if you are shipping to a landlocked country, sea shipment is not a good option;
3. What you are shipping: some products cannot travel by plane, others may be not accepted by custom clearance in the countries on the way to the destination, and others will decay before reaching destination if it will take too long, or there are not proper refrigerating measures taken;
4. What’s the volume and weight of your shipment: sea and rail freights are usually more competitive in pricing in the case of a huge cargo, but it is not a golden rule – sometimes the difference in price is just not worth it;
5. When you are shipping: in case of emergencies, such as the pandemic has shown us, you need to be more careful and think about where your priorities are: better to save money, or ensure the fastest speed?
6. How much time you have got for the delivery: when time is not an option, plane is basically the only way: but, at times, especially when air freight queues are long, you’ll be surprised to see that, all in all, the other transportation means can be good alternatives.

While usually your courier can analyze for you what is the best option for your needs, even some of the biggest brands do not do everything, so you often will find out it is better to contact different couriers for different shipping methods, so you can get the best options possible.

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