The modern Silk Road

The famous Silk Road is coming alive again. DHL Freight is offering its customers along the old trading route a genuine alternative to air and sea freight. At the terminal in Duisburg, goods are conveyed by combined transport on trucks and freight trains directly to China. Multimodal transport is a business with potential.

In the Middle Ages, precious fabrics – such as silk – as well as gemstones and spices found their way to Europe on the Silk Road. What used to be transported on camels is shipped by DHL on trucks and freight trains today. The ancient trading route has been experiencing an enormous revival for several years thanks to multimodal transport.

This is because China subsidizes rail transport and invests huge sums in the expansion of transcontinental freight-train transport. ‟In many cities in the various provinces, container and multimodal terminals are under construction at the moment," says Mirco Schott. The branch manager at the Duisburg terminal is conscious of the modern Silk Road's great potential.

Direct connection to China

‟In percentage terms, it is true that fewer goods are going from Europe to China than vice versa," Schott explains. But it is now necessary to convince customers here of the benefits of multimodal transport, he says. One example: while sea transport takes four to six weeks, experience shows that goods reach their destination by rail transport within 14 days. Multimodal transport is also much cheaper in comparison with air freight.

The so-called China train links large cities such as Shenzhen and Shanghai with Istanbul, Hamburg, Duisburg and Rotterdam through to Morocco. Containers suitable for rail transport are transferred onto freight trains from trucks at the Duisburg-Ruhrort port railway, and then back onto trucks in certain places. It is primarily mass-produced goods such as clothing that ends up in Europe. Chinese companies, on the other hand, mainly need machinery for their production sites.

‟The use of rail as a means of transportation between Asia and Europe has proven very successful at DHL Freight. The location in Duisburg plays an essential role as a hub in this process. Shorter distances to customers and excellent intermodal connections provide many opportunities to make faster deliveries and to provide cost advantages," says Amadou Diallo, CEO of DHL Freight.

For Mirco Schott, this means good prospects for his terminal. About 175 employees work in Duisburg and deal with the 3,500 break bulk shipments that come in and out, nationally and internationally, on a daily basis. “We transport everything, from cat food to vacuum cleaners," says Schott to sum up the variety of goods that appear in the warehouse.

Published: December 2016

Image: DHL