China expands further into Western Europe with arrival of its first rail freight train to London.
The resurrection of the centuries old Silk Road trade routes between China and the West took one more step towards fruition earlier this month with the arrival of China’s first railway freight train (named the East Wind) into Barking, east London. This new service hopes to strengthen trade connections between China and Britain and increase China’s economic ties to Western Europe.
- The 7,500-mile journey took 18 days to complete.
- The train left Yiwu, China and passed through Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, Belgium, and France before crossing under the English Channel into Britain.
- 44 containers arrived laden with suitcases, clothes, and a variety of household goods.
- It will run as a weekly service, similar to the China Railway’s relationship with Germany and Spain.
This move is part of a multibillion dollar investment strategy in infrastructure known as “One Belt, One Road” that Chinese President Xi Jinping announced in 2013. While this is the first train to the UK from China, it’s part of a much larger commercial route that spans all of Western Europe. Professor Magnus Marsden, an anthropologist at Sussex University’s Global Studies told The Guardian that it’s not big corporations that will be using the train, but smaller commodities in relation to the ancient traders of the historic Silk Road.
For Beijing, it offers another way to sustain economic growth and influence in otherwise divergent countries by threading them together along one succinct trade route.
Benefits of the China-to-London “Silk Road.”
This weekly service, while a one-way road, (goods are being exported from China to London, not the other way around) is beneficial to shippers in terms of both time and money. Prices are cut in half when compared to air-cargo and while shipping by sea may be more economical; the China railway route cuts two weeks off the current journey time.
Shipping by land rather than air could also help alleviate China’s pollution problem. Rail cargo is not as environmentally friendly as sea transport, but it emits significantly less carbon dioxide than air travel.
This new trade route by rail also offers ocean-shipping lines a new opportunity for growth in the face of overcapacity on the waters. One of the world’s biggest shipping companies, Maersk, told BBC it is investigating “possible opportunities” in long-distance rail, though it sees them as supplementary to sea and air routes.
The Future is Now
London is the 15th European city to join the “New Silk Road.” Last year alone, 1,702 freight trains made the trip to Europe, more than double the number in 2015. There are currently 39 trade routes linking 16 Chinese cities to 12 European cities, and China is planning another 20 European routes for rail freight in the near future.
While many shippers may continue to rely on the sea for most of their logistical needs, this may become a viable option to consider, due to the environmentally friendly nature of the route and cost effectiveness when products need to be moved fast.