Transport of flowers from the Netherlands to China could well go by train, says LEI researcher Xiaoyong Zhang. On October 28, she presented the results of her research to a trade delegation in China. Dutch king Willem-Alexander received a copy of the report written by Zhang in conjunction with the Rabobank.

Five times cheaper and environmental gains
In December 2014, Zhang attended the opening ceremony of the YuXinOu Railway between Rotterdam and Chongqing. There, she heard that goods can be transported between the Chinese industrial city and Rotterdam in only thirteen days. Of course that's a lot longer than by plane, but also five times cheaper, not to mention the environmental gains achieved thus. Compared to transport by ship, the train is thirty to forty days faster, and only 1.5 times as expensive, Zhang calculated. Sounds good, she thought. At the gathering, she asked what is transported the other way, from the Netherlands to China. The answer? Trains often turn back empty. This encouraged Zhang to investigate whether the Dutch agrifood sector could use the train connection.

Can fresh produce be transported by train?
To her it’s clear: "The Chinese can also import their fruit, vegetables, meat, flowers and milk powder from elsewhere. For them it is not interesting to find out whether the train can be used to transport perishables. The question is: can the Netherlands afford to lose this market? It is the world’s second largest net exporter of agricultural products, but the export to China is still very limited."

A cargo train that is mainly used to transport laptops and cars obviously needs some alterations to also carry fresh produce. "The train travels through an area where temperatures can rise to 45 degrees Celsius in summer and drop to -45 degrees in winter. Food products and flowers always have to be transported at the same temperatures and under stable air conditions. But that is just a matter of using reefer containers," Zhang explains.

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