XI'AN, April 22 (Xinhua) -- The China-Europe freight train service that links China, Central Asia and Europe is more needed as ever after flights reduced and sea transport suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Early in April, a freight train loaded with 50 cars of solar panels departed Xi'an in northwest China for Barcelona some 12,000 km away. It was the first time for a chartered freight train to run between the two cities.
Xi'an has been an important gateway in China's opening-up since ancient times. Its political and economic communications with foreign countries dates back to over 3,000 years ago.
As the capital of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and the starting point of the ancient Silk Road, Xi'an was the world's first city with a population of over 1 million and hosted over 100,000 resident foreign merchants and students at the time.
The implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative and the ever-expanding network of the trans-Eurasian rail lines have once again injected vitality into the landlocked city.
The opening of the Xi'an-Barcelona service is another example of the robust growth momentum of China-Europe freight trains.
Volvo Cars, a regular user of the service, has delivered over 4,000 vehicles in the first quarter by China-Europe freight trains. Besides, new customers using air freighters and ships as main transport channels before the pandemic -- milk cartons from Sweden, food additives from Belgium, plastic tracks from Italy -- have begun to board the freight trains to enter China market.
"Over 40 percent of new cargoes on our freight trains were from sea and air transportation," said Sun Yimin, director of the administrative committee of Xi'an International Trade & Logistics Park.
Freight train service adopts segmented transport, which does not require quarantine of personnel involved. The "non-contact" feature stands out, especially during a pandemic.
"We have seen 656 freight trains in Q1, 2.3 times the number over the same period of last year," Sun said. Xi'an has opened 15 freight train lines to 44 cities in 14 Asian and European countries since 2013.
In the meantime, cities across China sent a total of 1,941 China-Europe freight trains and transported 174,000 TEUs (20-foot equivalent units) in Q1, a year-on-year increase of 15 percent and 18 percent, respectively.
On March 30, a train loaded with ceramic tiles, air conditioners and freezers pulled out of the Xinzhu Station of Xi'an and headed for Uzbekistan. Xi'an sent a record of 13 China-Europe trains on the day.
"We used to look for freight sources all over China. Now we have endless goods to be transported. Thanks to the freight train service, more and more Chinese goods are able to be sent abroad while quality foreign goods have entered Chinese homes," said Huang Xin, Party secretary of the station.
Huang said at least 15 of the 17 rail lines the station operates daily were fully loaded.
According to the city government, Xi'an has established sister-city relations with 36 cities in 30 countries and international friendship cities with 72 peers in 40 countries.
The city's actual use of foreign capital exceeded 7 billion U.S. dollars in 2019, an increase of 11.1 percent. Enditem