Hefei to Helsinki– are railroads the answer for supply during COVID-19?

Arttu Jarila, holds a BBA in Marketing and has a long career at Helvar with roles ranging from production line shift management through to leading the warehouse and customer service team. Currently, he is leading the Logistics & Order Handling team at Helvar Luminaire Components, along with taking care of Helvar’s Iberian Luminaire Component Partners. Outside of work he’s actively involved in his local basketball team and enjoys travelling around the world – by road, air and sea, like our items.   

Hefei to Helsinki– are railroads the answer for supply during COVID-19?

The COVID-19 pandemic presented new challenges for our supply team. As the majority of commercial flights were grounded after the Chinese New Year, it was clear that we had to come up with new ways to retrieve our items from China to Europe. With Luminaire component sales at a high, we needed our items, and we needed them fast.   

 Despite working with limited staff, our supplier restarted production, and we had to look for ways to deliver the goods to our main warehouse in Europe. Having a long relationship with one of the world’s leading freight forwarders enabled us to obtain a few pallets as they were shipped with their fleet. But due to capacity issues, the prices quickly rose to unimaginable levels. An alternative and cost-efficient option was sea freight. However, the items were taking up to 8 weeks to arrive, thus this wasn’t a viable delivery option. Alas, it was time to investigate a transportation method that we had not used before, the railroads.  

Hefei to Helsinki You might think that given the distance between China and Finland that railroads might not be the first option that comes to mind, but we knew that it was indeed possible. There were two direct lines from China, across Russia to Finland. The first being rather well known but after some calls to forwarders, we quickly got the impression that it’s still far from being a regular, working connection. The second option isn’t as well known and is a new route, but we were told it could work well. The track record seemed almost too good to be true, and the two-week transportation time was not to be overlooked.  

 This line was from Hefei (150 km from our main factory) to Helsinki, which is 70km from our main warehouse. In a large company, it could easily take months to organize the introduction of a new transportation partner, not to mention a completely new transportation method. With Helvar being a fast and agile company, it was time to put that to the test. 


 The first call to Nurminen Logistics, the company running and operating the Hefei-Helsinki route, was made on 9th March 2020. By the end of that very week, we had already had meetings, sorted the contract, and booked a 40’ container in China. However, during the following week we learned that due to the tax-free status of our items, the direct Hefei-Helsinki route would need additional permissions in China, which would delay the shipment by at least a few weeks. This was not an option; we had already managed to increase our production capacity for two 40’ containers. With fast cooperation with Nurminen, we managed to come up with a custom hybrid route via road, sea and rail. Just over 2 weeks after we started the project, we had almost a quarter of a million products on the way to Karkkila, Finland – and from Karkkila to our customers. Success! We managed to find a route that suited the business during this crazy pandemic. Writing this today in June, the standard Hefei-Helsinki route is completely functional, and we are using it regularly – with the earlier special route still in place as a backup. I’m super proud of our team for being flexible, innovative and never giving up. Fast and agile – that’s what we at Helvar are.