Freight constraints in China, could rail freight be an option?

February 4, 2020

Could Rail Freight be a transportation option out of China? 

Municipalities such as Shanghai, have announced that Lunar New Year holidays will be extended to the 9th February. Important to note that with the current Coronavirus outbreak, healthcare businesses will also be closed. The current situation for Wuhan is currently not clear and the province is on complete lockdown. 

With factories closed and workers being unable to travel back to their workplaces (as many areas have travel bans or restrictions) a backlog of orders is inevitable. Truck drivers may also be unable to travel back from their homes where they have been celebrating Lunar New Year with their families. 

The Coronavirus is impacting the whole of China

Almost all Provinces in China have confirmed cases of the new virus and the count is rising daily. All industries will be impacted due to the travel bans, port closures and the impact of flight cancellations and closed borders from other countries will, without a doubt, impact supply chains around the world.

Cargo delays and pick ups will continue to be a challenge in remote areas due to limited drivers available for example. Workers will also be advised to stay home by families concerned for public health in the big cities. 

The current situation in Wuhan, China. 

Picture of Wuhan China
Wuhan, China

Wuhan is currently on lockdown, freight services are not available and the only cargo entering Wuhan is relief goods sent by air freight. All other modes are blocked. Wuhan is not only a very important hub on the New Silk Road, it is also the most important transportation hub for China as most Passenger and Cargo Trains go through Wuhan as a central point. 

Alternative Rail Terminals are now being looked into such as Xi’An & Chongqing. Currently there is enough capacity on the Xi’An routing but this could be over very soon as we are sure that there will be way more cargo than we are expecting to switch from Ocean freight to Rail mode.

What are the options for freight shipping out of China? 

Ocean Freight - An increase of cargo moving to rail from Ocean and from Air Freight is expected. Ocean Freight delays are possible due to limited port operations as well as delays in manufacturing. Blank sailings and an increase in ocean freight rates are foreseen.

Air charter - requests are on the increase, however we are beginning to see charter operators express concerns for their crew landing in China.

Air freight cargo - hit significantly due to the cancellations of major air operators cancelling flights to China. The usual air freight cargo (belly load) that is loaded onto passenger flights will lack availability.  

Rail freight - there is the possibility to switch containerised cargo from ocean to rail freight, not only for European destinations but also for Latin America and North America. The cargo moving by rail freight to Rotterdam can be loaded onto ocean freight to continue its journey to the United States. Cargo can be moved out of China by truck, which may be a more efficient option loading cargo onto the rail trains in Kazakhstan, as congestion is expected to increase in Xi'An.

LISTEN IN TO THE WEBINAR featuring Marco Reichel, Regional Business Development Manager – APAC on the current rail freight situation in China on the latest webinar from Railfreight.com 


Our advice to clients is to plan and forecast effectively, work closely with transportation partners to review all foreseeable options, please reach out to the Crane Worldwide team in your location for further information or request a quote below and we will be in touch!

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