Rail transport from China

Update date:
30 Apr 2024
Date of publication:
28 May 2023
Reading time: 9 minutes
Container terminal rail transport

Table of contents:

Rail transport from China has, in recent years, been one of the most popular modes of transport next to maritime transport. In 2020, a record amount of goods was transported via China-Europe rail links, demonstrating the growing popularity of rail transport. Between 2016 and 2021, the number of trains on the China-Europe route increased from 1702 to 15183 per year. Official information shows that a total of 82 routes now take trains to almost 200 cities in 24 European countries, creating a transport network that spans the entire continent. This is primarily due to the well-connected rail route between Poland and China.

How long does it take to transport by rail from China?

An important element is the speed of delivery, which currently ranges from approximately 14 to 22 days. Transport by rail from China is cost-effective due to the price/delivery time ratio. The shorter transit time for containers by rail is the biggest advantage over maritime transportTransport by air is the fastest method of delivery, but much less attractively priced than rail. It should be noted, however, that transit times depend on the period in question, so it is always worth asking the company from which you are ordering rail transport what the transit time for a particular load. Sometimes a train can arrive in around 11 days, but in extreme cases the transit time is up to around 25 days. On average, we can assume that a train covers the route in around 16 days. Trains are formed into trains of 40 containers. Some trainsets can be sidelined for several days due to the heavy traffic that can occur along the way. So if your cargo is delayed, please rest assured as this is a completely normal situation that can occur.

Yet another issue concerns dangerous cargo, which often has to travel via other rail terminals and then most often the departure time, i.e. ETD may only be 2 weeks away. Departures of cargoes that contain batteries may take a little longer, so always ask for the ETD of the cargo in question and the transit time TT.

Train timetable:

In terms of train departures from China, if the goods are ready today, for example. We can expect the train to leave in about 7-10 days. Trains run 2-3 times a week depending on the current train schedule, but the goods must be delivered 7 days in advance before departure.

Rail transport of containers from China
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How is the rail route from China to Poland?

Transports leave from all over China, but there are a few main terminals in the Chinese railway network. Transports by rail initially go through Mongolia or through Kazakhstan and later pass through Russia. The Middle Kingdom has invested in the new Silk Road by building rail networks. The railway Silk Road is one of the most important infrastructure projects undertaken by China. With the construction of the modern Silk Road, China has created an effective rail link to Europe and cooperation with the Middle Kingdom has become easier. Once containers reach Europe, they spread to other European countries, where the rail network is quite extensive.

route map of rail transport from China to Poland

How much does rail transport from China cost

The price of rail transport from China depends on the time of year and the market situation, but statistics from last year show that prices range from around USD 150 To USD 250 per CBM, i.e. per m3 of goods loaded into a container. However, the carriage of containers containing non-standard cargo may vary in cost depending on the type of goods. The price of a particular cargo should always be checked individually. Rail transport to Poland from China is more expensive than maritime transportThis is mainly due to higher handling costs. Container ships can carry more than a dozen thousand containers, while in the case of railways, around 40 containers go in storage.

Below to illustrate what 1 CBM of goods looks like in a container. If you do not know how to calculate how many CBMs your goods will take up you can use the calculator.

Types of trains and containers: 

There are many types of trains, however, cargo is transported on standard goods trains, which hold around 40 containers on board.

As far as container types are concerned, only 40 HC containers are available on the railways from China, the dimensions of which are shown in the picture below. In rail shipments, in addition to FCL full container loads, LCL general cargo can also be shipped.

container 40HC

What loads can be transported by rail?

As a general rule, in rail transport it is possible to only transport loads so called NON-HAZ, or in short safe, which do not contain liquids or batteries. However, this is not always true; some loads containing batteries and liquids deviate from this rule. Each product should be checked individually with the company that is carrying out the rail transport for us. Normally, transport is possible for goods with built-in batteries, but bulk batteries are unfortunately already prohibited.

How to outsource rail transport from China?

The safest method of outsourcing rail transport from the Middle Kingdom is to entrust the cargo to a Polish company. Above all, this involves ensuring that the cargo is insured by a Polish insurance company and, if necessary, the funds will be easier to recover.

The second point concerns the expertise in rail transport, when acting with a Polish partner we are sure that everything will be taken care of and we can always count on help if needed.

Another issue is the clearance of the goods; customs clearance is necessary to allow the goods to be marketed in Poland. Companies provide comprehensive services and will automatically do such clearance for us at a price of approx. USD 50-60. Then we are assured that the goods will be legally marketed and we have peace of mind.

Delays in rail transport from China

The transport of goods by rail in terms of delays is quite unpredictable. We can conclude that the 90% of freight falls within the stated delivery time, but there are delays of around 7-10 days in some deliveries. It all depends on traffic and whether the train does not stop at some railway siding for a few days. When ordering rail transport, it is always advisable to check the train tracking yourself so that you have all the information at your fingertips, or to ask your freight forwarder directly for this information.

Before the festive period, transport times may increase due to increased demand for faster forms of transport to Europe.

Customs clearance for rail transport from China

Any commodity must pass the customs clearance. There are two types of check-in: the standard check-in, which is the most common, and the 33a check-in. The latter, however, involves a considerable amount of paperwork and the approval of the office. It allows the VAT due on import to be settled later in the VAT return.

However, let us focus on clearance, which is applied in most cases. Once the goods arrive in Poland, it is necessary to clear the goods. The company that organises transport from China for us declares the goods for customs clearance at the customs agency, for the clearance we need documents such as packing listcommercial invoice and possibly certificates for some products. Once the goods have been cleared, in order to receive the goods we have to pay customs duty and VAT, which has been calculated on the value of the goods. VAT is normally 23%, customs duty varies depending on the product, for a guide on how to check customs duty see our other guide.

Documents needed for rail transport from China

In transport by rail, sea or air, documents such as the following will always be required packing list, commercial invoice and necessary certificates for certain products, often electronic. You will find sample documents and detailed information in our other post.

Vendors in China will often, if you ask them for an invoice or packing list, know what documents are involved, but it is worth checking that all the necessary details are included on the documents.

Consolidation of goods for rail transport from China

Goods from China often arrive for consolidation at one location where they are loaded into one container and shipped. It is worth asking the company you are transporting with about consolidation of goodsIn practice, this involves several of our shippers delivering goods to one place and shipping everything together. The challenge, however, arises in connection with several invoices from several shippers which entails having to do several customs clearances for each invoice. Often, however, importers choose to issue one summary invoice for all goods so as to save money.

Cargo tracking in rail transport from China

When ordering rail transport from China, it is worth checking the status of the transport yourself, some sites allow you to track such cargo. Some shipping companies unfortunately do not send such statuses.

Cargo insurance in rail transport from China

Cargo insurance for transport from China by rail is an extremely important element, even though the percentage of cargo that arrives damaged is extremely low, it is nevertheless worth ensuring that extra protection is in place. Appropriate insurance guarantees total security of goods. It is a good idea to ask the company you are contracting to transport your goods what type of insurance they have and what is included in it.

What surprises we may encounter during transport from China:

Customs inspection in China

In some cases, our goods are singled out for customs inspection in China and this will incur an additional cost, which may amount to around USD 200. However, this amount will vary depending on whether we are talking about a full container or smaller loads of so-called general cargo.

Container revision in Poland

The customs office in Poland may select cargo for customs revision and also involves an additional cost. The customs officers check whether the product is properly labelled and whether the information declared in the documents agrees. You will find more information about the customs search here.

Problems with customs clearance

In the case of customs clearance, documents such as a CE certificate, declaration of conformity or sanitary clearance may be required for some products if the product will come into contact with food. If this situation arises, it is important to provide the necessary documents as soon as possible so as not to generate storage costs, about which some information is provided below.

Storage costs

After the cargo arrives in Poland, we have a few days free of charge, but after a few days, storage charges will start to accrue, which are calculated per m3 of goods, i.e. 1 CBM. Charges may vary depending on which terminal and warehouse the cargo is stored at. It is always advisable to ask what the storage charges are before ordering transport.

Where does our cargo from China ultimately go?

As far as full containers are concerned, they ultimately go to Małaszewicze, from where we can pick them up with a special semi-trailer adapted to container transport.

In the case of cargo smaller than one container, i.e. less-than-container loads, they are sent to Warsaw where they are unloaded to a warehouse from where they can then be collected.

If you need more information or would like advice please contact us.

Alternatives to transport from China by rail

Transport by rail is not the only mode of transporting goods from China to Poland. On the route from China to Europe, sea freight is the most popular solution. When importing bulky goods, sea freight is cheaper compared to rail transport. It provides more competitive rates because it offers huge amounts of space on large container ships. However, rail transport is a faster alternative to sea transport. Transport by sea takes about 42 days of days, compared to 14-22 days in the transit of goods from China by rail. Rail forwarding compared to sea transport is more expensive, due to the high handling costs on the long route to Poland and Europe.  

Advantages of rail transport such as faster freight and lower environmental impact make it a frequent choice for companies from Europe looking to handle their Asian cargo. In container logistics from China supply chain planning. On the China Europe route, we can also use air transport and road transport. 

Rail transport of containers from China
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  • Rafał says:

    I would like to ask whether CE certification will be needed for watches?

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