The Belt and Road – 02 Longest Rail Road laid parallel to the Silk Road

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is the 21st century Silk Road. It was initiated by China to promote trade among partner countries. It is also a mechanism of poverty alleviation in world in general.

Silk produced in China was the popular commodity traded along the ancient trade routes from China to the world along with porcelain and other products. Hence, it was commonly known as the Silk Road.

Chinese Admiral Zheng Ho visits Sri Lanka in early 1400s

As the Chief of Maritime Silk Road Chinese Admiral Zheng Ho who visited Sri Lanka in the early 1400s AD has contributed in strengthening the economies in the partner countries such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and all east African countries he visited. Technology has added new dimensions such as rail, air and cyber connectivity to the modern Silk Road.

Modern Silk Road Railway

Most partner countries of the BRI are now connected via Rail adding more connectivity to the modern Silk Road.  Among the rail network is the world’s longest rail track connecting Beijing in China with Madrid in Spain. Apart from this known as the China Europe track spanning more than 8000 miles the BRI has contributed in developing thousands of miles of rail tracks connecting China with Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Pakistan and Russia etc.

The Trans Siberian track spanning more than 5700 miles connects China to one of BRI’s largest trading partners the European Union. This track ends in St. Petersburg which has one of the largest ports in that region.

From a canon on a ship at St. Petersburg port a shot was fired symbolizing the beginning of the 1917 Russian Revolution. It initiated the Communist Party of China which later established the Peoples Republic of China. A careful analysis would prove that the existence of China – Russia partnership is maintaining world stability at this very moment.  Moscow – Beijing track spanning more than 4300 miles is also one of the longest rail tracks in the world.

Silk Road Rail Tracks in 2020s , for Trade and COVID 19 Relief

The rail tracks down the Silk Road proved that they not only were trade tools but also can be used as medical relief supply channels during the pandemic period. Below are few notable instances where the trains along the BRI contributed to that effort. Late April 2020, China-Europe freight train departed Shandong and arrived in Hungary with medical supplies. It delivered face masks, gloves and other protective equipment to help fight COVID-19.

As a transit country, Hungary will continue to benefit from freight traffic from China to Europe. Hungary is a BRI logistics center IN the region. Early June 2020, a freight train left China heading for Tilburg in the Netherlands. It carried 82 TEUs of cargo and arrived at the destination after two weeks marking the launch of a new rail cargo service between the two cities. The China-Europe train now has 20 routes linking China with eight countries.

Late June, 2020 the train from China with medical materials arrived in Paris. It was the first freight train dedicated to transport protective materials against COVID-19 directly from China to France. The train has run over 11,920 kilometers through 7 countries before delivering some 20 million surgical masks and gloves, water-soluble bags, contactless gel dispensers and other equipment. The operation of this special freight train was as a result of the strong cooperation among COSCO Shipping of China which is one of world’s leading shipping companies and Forwardis, a subsidiary of France’s national railway company.

Silk Road Rail benefits versus Air & Sea Freight

It should be noted how France as a nation is catering to logistics demands of the Silk Road using their own skills and resources despite heavy pressure from the USA lead camp. According to logistical statistics the cargo volume of six cargo planes can be transported in a single train and the cost of rail transport is 30 times cheaper than that of air transport while 15 times lower in term of carbon footprint. Compared to maritime transport, a journey by train takes nearly half the time and is the best option for all those with rail network and especially to landlocked partners in the BRI. French engineers are now working on developing the speed to reduce the journey time to 10 days to reach China as per French sources.

With BRI rail transport has reached new heights connecting the world. A train from China can reach Moscow in approx 11 days while catering to transport needs in the Mongolian regions. Ukraine is another country that is keen on developing its logistics related service capacity using the Silk Road rail network. Ukraine is been used as a transit platform for container transportation from China to Europe and also acts as the final destination to cater to the region according to logistics statistics. On average one train can transport up to 40-45 containers, which adds up to a total of 160 containers per month thus Ukraine will receive up to 1,000 containers till the end of this year 2020 as per Ukraine sources.

The growing influence of China Europe Silk Road Railway

Launched in 2013, by end of April 2020 a total of 3,000 cargo trains have been operated only from Henan Province, to cities in Europe and Asia. The 3,000 trains have taken a total of about 1.5 million tonnes of cargo worth approx 12.7 billion U.S. dollars.

The logistic network of China-Europe freight train services originating from this line alone has covered places including Europe, Central Asia, Japan, Republic of Korea and the ASEAN nations. The train network has in fact helped to reduce the negative impact of the pandemic on China-Europe industrial chain and supply chain cooperation. According to many analysts it serves as a green channel for European countries to timely obtain medical supplies and daily necessities. Initiated in 2011, the China-Europe rail transport service is seen as an important part of the Belt and Road Initiative to boost trade between China and the countries participating in the program.

Prof. Samitha Hettige,

The writer is Head of Research at CINEC Maritime Campus, Malabe

To be continued 

Samitha Hettige

Prof. Samitha Hettige, PhD Enlightening Lives to Sustain the World Colombo, Sri Lanka.

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