The Silk Road or Silk Route was an ancient network of trade routes that connected China and Europe. In 2013 Chinese leader Xi Jinping launched a vision of the ‘New Silk Road’ in the ‘One Belt One Road Initiative’, spanning 60-plus countries across Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and Africa.
The first ‘New’ Silk Rail service departed in 2013 through China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region, Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus and Poland to Germany; a new land connection between Asia and Europe.
China has long wanted to spread economic prosperity to its inland regions by pushing industry west, but manufacturers have been loth to shift, in part because of the higher cost of moving goods to ports for export.
Developing a rail-freight network to Europe opens up a new route to market for these regions.
The land route through Central Asia is relatively short. A container ship too large for the Suez canal must make a 24,000km journey to reach Europe. Trains travel no more than 11,000km to reach the same destination.
From next to nothing in 2013, demand for rail cargo between China and Europe has kept growing.
Currently 35 Chinese cities run service cargo trains to 12 European destinations. Demand for space is high and accelerating.
Departures in 2016 @ 1,700 were twice that of 2015. In 2017 there were 6,000 departures, with over 500,000 tonnes of freight and expectations that this number will be exceeded again 2018.
By 2020 rail firms expect to have capacity for 1.7m containers to pass between Europe and China.
Rail provides shippers with a viable alternative to expensive air and slow sea freight services. A transit from China to Europe is about 16-18 days for a block-train and 19-22 days for single box shipping.
Belt and Road corridors to Europe:
- Northern Corridor follows Trans-Siberian railway route
- Central Corridor follows the ancient route to Beijing
- South Corridor from Western China to Turkey
When this huge project is finalized the ‘Iron Silk Road’ will connect the Eurasia inland areas with Europe / China and link areas representing 75% of the world population.
Airlines and the global container lines are watching things closely.
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