Duis­burg re­vives on Chi­nese rail freight

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - Front Page - XIN­HUA

DUIS­BURG, Ger­many — For decades, the city of Duis­burg ly­ing at the heart­land of Ger­many’s in­dus­trial Ruhr re­gion, had strug­gled with a de­pres­sion just like other heavy in­dus­try cities around the world that were ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a struc­tural trans­for­ma­tion.

But nowa­days the world’s big­gest in­land port is chang­ing — the sites once used as steel mills have been turned into trans­port ter­mi­nals. Trucks come and go around the cities and crane op­er­a­tors un­load con­tain­ers from freight trains and pile them up one above an­other.

“The freight ser­vices from China are re­ally im­por­tant for us,” said Amelie Erxleben, a staff mem­ber with the Duis­burg In­ter­modal Ter­mi­nal, the big­gest of the nine ter­mi­nals of the Port of Duis­burg.

As Duis­burg is am­bi­tious to be­come the hub of lo­gis­tics in the cen­ter of West Eu­rope, it is grasp­ing a chance for re­vival as China is to re­vive the an­cient Silk Road.

“Take a look around, Chi­nese con­tain­ers are ev­ery­where here,” said Ge­orge, a 58-year-old Ger­man truck driver, point­ing at a con­tainer nearby with a logo CRE, which is short for China Rail­way Ex­press. He is among hun­dreds of driv­ers wait­ing at the DIT for a freighter or­der.

CRE is the rail­way freight ser­vice link­ing China and Eu­rope. Ac­cord­ing to China Rail­way Cor­po­ra­tion, in the first half of this year, the ser­vice has linked 48 Chi­nese cities with 42 cities in 14 Eu­ro­pean states and 2,497 trains trav­eled the route, a 69-per­cent rise com­pared with the same pe­riod of last year.

Ge­orge said CRE trains have brought sig­nif­i­cantly more Chi­nese busi­nesses to the ter­mi­nals and Port of Duis­burg. The prod­ucts are no longer silk, tea or ceram­ics. Made-in­China lap­tops, mo­bile phones and tex­tiles are the most pop­u­lar prod­ucts reach­ing Eu­rope on­board the train, while made-in-Eu­rope high value-added fine wines and ve­hi­cle spare parts are shipped to China.

Erxleben said now 25 freight trains travel ev­ery week be­tween Chi­nese cities and Duis­burg, 15 China-bound and 10 Eu­rope-bound, ac­count­ing for nearly one-third of the freight vol­umes of the DIT.

“All that starts here!” said Erxleben, stand­ing at the end of the rail­way at the DIT. That af­ter­noon, an­other cross-con­ti­nen­tal freight train ar­rived, and three cranes un­loaded con­tain­ers and trans­fered them through the Rhine River or trucks to other Eu­ro­pean cities.

But four years ago, only two or three freight trains trav­eled be­tween China and Duis­burg.

Owing to the surge in freight vol­umes, the ter­mi­nal be­came nar­row and busy. About 600 to 800 trucks come and go ev­ery day, and the ter­mi­nal ex­panded its truck fleet from 10 sev­eral years ago to 60 now. The ter­mi­nal has also bought 200,000 square me­ters to store more con­tain­ers.

Jo­hannes Pflug, who is re­spon­si­ble for China af­fairs in the Duis­burg mu­nic­i­pal­ity, said that over 6,000 jobs have been cre­ated by CRE.

Markus Taube, an econ­o­mist with the Univer­sity of Duis­burg-Essen, has in­ten­sively stud­ied the Silk Road and found that the city ben­e­fits from the ini­tia­tive.

“We’ve been able to show that in­vest­ments have been made, that jobs have been cre­ated, in the con­text of this Silk Road Ini­tia­tive (the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive), which means we talk about more than just con­tain­ers ar­riv­ing in Duis­burg and then be­ing shipped here. There is a small in­dus­try around it, which gen­er­ates tax rev­enue for the city, cre­ates jobs and strength­ens the rep­u­ta­tion and im­por­tance of the city,” Taube told the Deutsch­land­funk ear­lier this year.

Duis­burg has gained sig­nif­i­cant pub­lic­ity in re­cent years, at­tract­ing jour­nal­ists from nearly all parts of the world. So­eren Link, mayor of Duis­burg, even said the city is the “China Town” in Ger­many.

The cargo ser­vice is widely re­ferred to as a key project within the frame­work of the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive, which was put for­ward by China in 2013 to boost con­nec­tiv­ity and seek com­mon pros­per­ity.

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