World’s longest railway takes wine from Spain to China

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A new rail route connecting Yiwu in southeast China and Madrid in Spain has been promoted as a way of transporting Spanish wine to Mainland China, but not everybody is convinced.

Image: the first Yixin’ou train at Yiwu railway station © STR/AFP/Getty Images

The Yixin’ou, the longest railway in the world, covers 13,052km and cuts across eight countries between Madrid and Yiwu, in Zhejiang Province.

The first train arrived in Madrid before the Christmas period and was supposed to head back to China with Spanish wines, ham and olive oil in time for the Chinese Spring Festival.

But, it was delayed because of ‘the sub-zero temperatures’ in Russia and Kazakhstan and ‘the high cost of moving goods on board’, according to Spanish newspaper El País.

César Jiménez of Kerry Logistics told the newspaper that he used to export wine to China overland, and was quoted as saying ‘the bottles froze and exploded en route. Maybe in the spring we could try.’

However, those promoting the train route do not appear to be deterred.

The operator of the Yixin’ou railway said it was aware of the temperature challenge and has used the first return trip to test temperature-controlled containers. ‘We used two special containers with a fixed temperature for the wines, and it was successful,’ Fang Xudong, deputy managing director of the operating company Yiwu Tianmeng Industrial Investment Co told DecanterChina.com.

The 24-day train journey has been reported as faster than the traditional route by sea and more environmentally friendly than by lorry.

But, Fang said the costs of the trial train were ‘very high’. He refused to compare it with the costs of shipping by sea. However, he added that ‘this is not the final price, and when the weather gets better, the costs will reduce without the need for the special containers.’

Fang also confirmed that the outbound train from Yiwu will depart once a month. But the return trips haven’t been confirmed.

Other issues of the service include the different track gauges among the countries on the route.

Gabriel Matagne, of Thermoveritas, a fine wine shipping & storage consultant company, told DecanterChina.com, ‘The vibrations during the long transit could have a negative impact on wine. For that reason, train shipments for fine wine should be avoided.’

Image: sketch map of the Yixin

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