The first freight train to run from China to the UK will arrive in London this week. The 'East Wind' locomotive will have travelled 7,456 miles and crossed eight countries over a 16 day journey, occupying a freight niche that is faster than a ship, and cheaper than a plane.
According to Professor Magnus Marsden, an anthropologist at Sussex University’s School of Global Studies, China is now purposefully opening up the old Silk Road routes for overland trade. “It’s a new economic geography,” he said. “This is the first train to the UK, but very much part of a new type of commercial route. The commodities are small. It’s not the big corporates who will be using this train, so it’s very much in the tradition of the Silk Road, giving opportunities for those who are in fact the inheritors of those ancient traders today.”
The new train will run weekly from Yiwu in Western China while demand is tested by China Railway. Fourteen other European cities also now have direct rail links to Yiwu, including Madrid and Hamburg.
As Professor Marsden points out, this could signal the emergence of a new Eurasian economic geography with intriguing characteristics. If it is successful, small traders across Europe, the Middle East and Asia will be directly linked to one another by low-cost, relatively fast transport. Yiwu's markets are apparently already loaded with Spanish hams, cheese and wine, and German beer, from other rail routes on the New Silk Road. The development of the New Silk Road rail routes also adds weight to the re-emergence of Eurasia as an idea. Long uneasy rivals, Russia and China have a shared interest in developing Eurasia economically, and deepening trade links with one another. As the West stagnates, could Eurasia become the centre of the world once more?
The Observer, 15th January 2017, 'Silk Road route back in business as China train rolls into London' https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/14/china-silk-road-trade-train-rolls-london The Guardian, 21st June 2015, 'Eurasia is an idea whose time has come around again' https://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/jun/21/eurasia-idea-time-come-again-china-russia