|London is the 15th city in Europe to be added to China’s freight train services to the continent. Photographer: Pierre-Philippe Marcou/AFP via Getty Images|
China sent its first freight train to London earlier this week in what is one of the world's longest train rides.
The train left Yiwu West Railway Station in Zhejiang province Sunday and is headed for the British capital, according to Xinhua, China's state-run news agency.
The trip will take two and a half weeks and cover almost 8,000 miles.
The train is hauling household goods, bags, suitcases and garments, among other items, and will pass through Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, Belgium and France before it gets to London.
Xinhua says London is the 15th city in Europe added to freight service between the continent and China.
The train is part of Chinese President Xi Jinping's vision for "One Belt, One Road" -- dubbed by some as the new silk road. It's China's infrastructure initiative, which Xi hopes will improve China's economic ties with Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
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The first train departed Yiwu in eastern Zhejiang province on Jan. 1 and will cover more than 12,000 kilometers (7,500 miles) in about 18 days before reaching London, China Railway Corp. said in a statement Monday. The service, carrying garments, bags and suitcases among other items, will pass through Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, Belgium and France.
London becomes the 15th European city with direct trains from China following the unveiling of Xi’s so-called Belt-and-Road initiative in 2013. The plan put transport links at the center of efforts to create a modern Silk Road and boost commercial ties to markets across Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe.
While the train can carry about 200 containers, versus 20,000 on a large cargo vessel, the trip takes about half as long as a 30-day sailing between East Asia and northern Europe. That will make rail a competitive option when maritime shipments are held up or miss the booked departure, especially compared with airfreight, which costs twice as much, according to Michael White, operations director at Brunel Shipping, the U.K. booking agent for the service.
Brunel is also involved in the operation of a China-Madrid freight train that’s run for more than a year and ranks as the world’s longest rail service, ahead even of the Moscow-Vladivostok trans-Siberian passenger route. The Spanish train carries olive oil back to China, and White said in an interview that the U.K. operation, which will unload in Barking, east London, needs to tap a similar export flow, possibly of British designer goods.
China has initially set aside about $40 billion in a fund to finance roads and railways abroad under President Xi’s strategy, while trade with countries along the corridor could reach $2.5 trillion in about a decade, Yao Gang, the then vice chairman of China Securities Regulatory Commission, said in 2015.
Railways are one of the top priorities of Xi and only last month, the country announced that it plans to spend 3.5 trillion yuan ($503 billion) to expand the national system by 2020.
A high-speed rail network will span more than 30,000 kilometers under the plan, according to a State Council Information Office briefing in Beijing Thursday. The distance, about 6.5 times the length of a road trip between New York and Los Angeles, will cover 80 percent of major cities in China.
China has also used railways as a diplomatic tool overseas. Chinese domestic train manufacturers have targeted emerging markets in Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia for rail-related orders while also bidding for high-profile contracts in the developed world.
China’s economy is on pace to meet the official growth target, posting 6.7 percent expansions in the first three quarters of 2016.
The Xinhua state news service reported the departure of the first China-London train earlier.
China Sends Its First Freight Train to London
China has begun its first freight train service to London from Yiwu, a famed wholesale market town in the eastern province of Zhejiang, the Xinhua news agency reported.
The train will travel for 18 days over more than 7,500 miles (12,000 km) to reach Britain from China, Xinhua said. It will pass through Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, Belgium and France before arriving in London.
The train journey is one of the world's longest, according to CNN.
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Former British Prime Minister David Cameron raised some eyebrows with allies by pitching Britain as the pre-eminent gateway to the West for investment from China and proposing to make London the main international trading centre for offshore yuan.Prime Minister Theresa May has said the relationship with China remains "golden" as she seeks to bring in billions of dollars in Chinese investment as Britain prepares to leave the European Union.