The Government of China on 10 April 2017 launched a rail freight service between China and London. The train is loaded with whisky, soft drinks, vitamins and baby products. The train, with thirty containers filled with UK-produced goods, set off on the 7500-mile journey from Stanford-le-Hope in Essex. The train will reach its destination in 18 days. It is the first direct rail link between China and Great Britain.
The route of the train will traverse from Beijing, across Asia and Europe, before terminating in London. The route is a part of the old Silk Road through which Chinese silk caravans carried garments to Europe and Africa. The train will go pass through the Channel Tunnel. It will then cross France, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan before heading into China. The new rail route is cheaper than air freight and faster than sea freight, unlocking new option for shippers. The first train from China to Britain had arrived on 18 January 2017, filled with clothes and other retail goods.
In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed the idea of creating a new Silk Road through Russia and Ukraine into Europe. Under the title One Belt, One Road, this plan is China’s new national vision to improve its connectivity to Europe, Asia, and Africa. The first freight train as a part of this strategy linked China to Tehran.
The Silk Route was an ancient network of trade routes that were central to cultural interaction through regions of the Asian continent connecting the West and East from China to the Mediterranean Sea. It derived its name from the lucrative trade in Chinese silk carried out along its length, beginning during the Han dynasty. The Central Asian sections of the trade routes were expanded around 114 BCE by the Han dynasty, largely through the missions and explorations of Chinese imperial envoy, Zhang Qian. The Chinese took great interest in the safety of their trade products and extended the Great Wall of China to ensure the protection of the trade route.
Trade on the Silk Route was a significant factor in the development of the civilizations of China, the Indian subcontinent, Persia, Europe, the Horn of Africa and Arabia, opening long-distance, political and economic relations between the civilizations. In addition to economic trade, the Silk Road served as a means of carrying out cultural trade among the civilizations along its network.
A direct rail freight service between China and Western Europe enables manufacturers to explore new means to lower transport costs. On the other hand, an expanded Chinese economic role within central Asia will enhance the country’s political influence over an increasingly important global region.