The New Silk Road – Chinese Freight Trains to European Cities
Have you ever wanted to hop a freight train and live the life of a hobo? Of course, you’d be breaking the law, but wouldn’t it be exciting?
I’m not encouraging you to do this, but I started dreaming about it as I read about the new routes for Chinese freight trains that go all the way from China to European cities. What a ride that would be!
Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s strategy to tie China’s economy to the international market by connecting China with Europe is in full swing. Currently, 16 Chinese cities are linked by freight trains to 12 European ones.
For example, in 2014, China linked Yiwu in eastern China directly to Madrid, Spain, a 21-day trip over 13,000 kilometers (more than 8,000 miles) through Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, and France.
At the time, it was the longest railway route in the world, even beating out Russia’s famous Trans-Siberian railway from Moscow to Vladivostok.
In 2015, China launched freight train service from Harbin in northeast China to Hamburg, Germany, a 15-day trip using Russia’s Trans-Siberian railway line.
And just a few days ago in 2017, China opened a new freight service from Yiwu to London with stops along the way in Germany and France.
Each route will transport the specialties that come from the originating region – electronic equipment and automotive parts from the Harbin area and small consumer goods from Yiwu.
And of course, the trains won’t return empty to China. No. China’s growing middle class has acquired a taste for European specialties. So the trains will transport German meat, French wine and cheese, Russian wood, and more back to China.
Why do people want to ship their goods by railway instead of air or sea? That’s an easy question to answer. The cost by rail is about half the cost of air freight, and the time by rail is about half of what it would take by sea. So shipping goods by rail makes very good sense.
Taiwan’s electronics manufacturer Foxconn has announced that they will use China’s Harbin-Hamburg route. I guess when it comes to making money, China and Taiwan have figured out a way to cooperate.
Now about hopping the freight train for your own personal pleasure – probably not a good idea.