Region transforming itself into vital transport hub

Photo 1กGSichuan Airlines staff celebrate the delivery of the first A350 XWB plane. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Photo 2กGYibin Port is a vital transport hub in Sichuan. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Photo 3กGAn international sea-rail combined transport train departing from Chengdu in Sichuan province to ASEAN countries. [Photo provided to China Daily]

The importance of modern transportation infrastructure is nowhere more apparent in China than southwestern Sichuan, the landlocked province where social and economic development was once hampered by a lack of rail, road and airport facilities. Today, the province is not only poised to become a vital trade hub for the rest of China, but for the entire world, thanks to its location at the intersection of China's Belt and Road Initiative and the Yangtze River Economic Belt.

In recent years, the country has witnessed fruitful results in implementing the "go west" strategy to make the region an inland pioneer in reform and opening-up.

The region will also serve as a core part of land-sea interaction and east-west mutual development by participating in the construction of the Belt and Road.

With its vast land, rich resources and unique geographical advantages, Sichuan is accelerating its pace of opening-up and promoting international cooperation in logistics and production capacity.

The provincial capital of Chengdu has made great contributions during this process with its international rail services. On Sept 15, the 1,000th international freight train departed from the Chengdu International Railway Port, three months earlier to achieve this goal than was achieved in 2017.

Currently, Chengdu operates international express railways connecting Europe, Central Asia and the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The Chengdu-Europe Express Railway, a direct freight train launched in 2013, now links 22 cities in foreign countries.

It is the most stable, fast and competitive China-EU train, and also the first one that promises no shutdowns during winter.

The express railway has played a vital role in boosting bilateral trade between the regions and countries involved in China's Belt and Road Initiative.

To expand its international rail network, Chengdu launched the Chengdu-Europe Plus strategy in 2015, striving to develop itself into a port city and a pivot for logistics to facilitate bilateral economic and trade relations between China and European countries.

In February this year, a new freight train arrived in Chengdu 55 hours after departing from Vietnam, marking the first successful test run of the Chengdu- ASEAN Express Railway, part of the Chengdu-Europe Plus strategy.

The train carried eight containers of electronic products made by South Korean LG Group and its final terminal was Lodz in Poland.

Since an increasing number of international companies have moved their production bases to Southeast Asia, the Chengdu-ASEAN railway provides an alternative for these companies to transport their products to the rest of the world.

The Chengdu-ASEAN railway takes about 15 days to deliver goods from Vietnam to Europe, more than 20 days shorter than traditional shipping routes and much cheaper than air transport, according to Chengdu International Railway Port Investment and Development Co.

Experts said that the railway, which serves as a new land and transcontinental channel connecting Europe and Southeast Asia, will help Chengdu further close in on its target of becoming a model of China's inland opening-up economy and a gateway of the country's opening-up endeavors to western and southern areas.

In addition to developing new international cargo train services, Chengdu is also working on a fully automated container loading and unloading project in the southern part of Asia's largest railway container center, in the city's Qingbaijiang district. The ongoing project, contracted by China Railway Chengdu Group, will consist of six smart loading and unloading lines and is expected to handle 1.2 million containers annually when completed. It is designed to cover an area of 53 hectares, with a total investment of 550 million yuan ($79.4 million).

In addition to Chengdu, other cities in Sichuan, including Luzhou, have also made efforts to enhance competitiveness and improve throughputs of their logistics ports in recent years.

Maersk, one of the world's largest container shipping companies, recently resumed service to the port of Luzhou after two years of absence. In September 2016, the Danish container shipping giant decided to stop receiving import and export goods in 10 Chinese ports, including Luzhou Port. Executives said the company wanted to focus more on ports with higher profitability.

Now, the situation has changed.

The International Container Terminal of Luzhou Port reached a cooperation agreement with Maersk China in June this year. It will provide Maersk containers with services related to equipment management, electronic data interchange, equipment interchange receipt and lead sealing. Commenting on Maersk's return, Huang Jing, general manager of Sichuan Luzhou Port Group, said the Danish company was attracted by the port's multimodal transport capacity.

"Last year, the port processed 17,800 twenty-foot equivalent units via rail-sea intermodal transportation, ranking ninth among the Chinese ports and first among the country's inland river ports," Huang said.

Maersk also saw the port's development potentials via further construction in three directions, Huang added.

On the east side, the port has built partnerships with hub ports in Shanghai, Nanjing and Wuhan to open several sea trade routes; on the south side, its goods can be delivered to Kunming, Guangzhou and Qinzhou in three days by railway; in the west, it operates the Luzhou-Chengdu-Europe express railway, which takes 20 days to transport cargoes in coastal and riverside areas from the port to Poland, the Netherlands and Germany.