According to the Chinese government, the New Silk Road is set to reinvigorate the seamless flow of capital, goods and services between Asia and the rest of the world. For the rail freight industry, this reinvigoration has been very tangible.

The New Silk Road is a productive and appealing logistics proposition, but it comes with a rather potent weather challenge – the freezing Siberian winters and burning intensity of the desert both offer challenging freight conditions. Perishable goods, among other cargo, being transported between Europe and China do not like the heat and simply cannot arrive frostbitten.

There’s a very real need for year-round rail freight reefers on the New Silk Road. The appetite for medicines, perishables goods, and electronics traded between China and Europe has seen an increase in demand.

Reefers have, historically, presented a challenge for such long distances, however all this changed a few years ago when Unit45 launched their self-supporting temperature-controlled container. This new container used a diesel tank to either cool or heat the space for up to 22 days, giving the shipper ample time to travel from Europe to China.

The original Unit45 was an expensive proposition, but the sector has seen a flurry of activity in the last two months. August and September have been  interesting times for reefers, with two new developments.

On 2 August 2018, a 41-container China railway express train left Jiangxi Province and started its journey to Moscow carrying fresh produce. That container was a CRT (China Railway Tielong) 45-foot reefer which was refueled in Zabaikalsk, Russia, and then continued on to Moscow.

This CRT reefer is China-made and noted as “100% independent intellectual property rights of China” on CRT’s website. The technology is a joint development between CRT, part of Shanghai listed company China Railway, and a domestic Chinese company.

The CRT reefer was originally manufactured in 2017, and now comes in 40-foot and 45-foot containers. The company, which has ambitions to be a global leader, estimates they’ll reach inventory in the realm of 67,000 units.

The China-made CRT unit is powered by a dual system – electric and oil – and offers 280 hours of continuous temperature control after each refueling. The independent power source of the CRT units does not last as long as the original Unit45 which offers 22 days (528 hours), but the refuel facility at Zabaikalsk gives the CRT unit longevity.

The next milestone for China-Europe reefers was reached at the end of September when Rob Brekelmans, Managing Director at New Silk Road, a Dutch joint venture for rail transport between the Netherlands and Asia, presented a new Unit45 reefer product at the New Silk Road Conference in the Netherlands.

This latest evolution of the Unit45 reefer is a green cold chain product, offering a climate-neutral proposition for shipments. Brekelmans stated in an interview promoting his session, “We have developed a unique container for 45-foot pallet-wide container, including the use of biofuel that is sustainable.”

This green reefer’s set point is checked in Romania, and more than 20 sensors inside the unique container monitors the temperature in transit. Sensors are also responsible for checking biofuel levels. GPS and GPRS trackers are able to identify the location of each reefer.

These new reefers are ideal for cargo that requires temperature control including pharmaceuticals, non-hazardous chemicals, high-tech products, and the food industry.