A New intercontinental shipping service, launched by DHL Global Forwarding and Xi’an International that can speed container freight between Hamburg and Xi’an in 12 days or less, is a less publicised, but more positive manifestation of China’s Belt & Road Initiative (BRI).
Conceived as the modern day version of the ancient Silk Road, the BRI is the Chinese government’s initiative comprising infrastructure development and investment on the overland route, the Silk Road Economic Belt, and the sea-based 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.
Many a western country is having problems getting “on board” with the BRI, citing a perceived desire of China to exert influence abroad, but such political concerns rarely get in the way of commerce. For those in the international logistics sector, the BRI is more of a blessing from Heaven itself.
In many ways, it’s very odd that it’s taken until now for this to hit the headlines; DHL, one of the world’s biggest logistics firms, very cleverly manoeuvring themselves to be a major beneficiary of the BRI. But then, DHL knows a thing or two about China, having started operating in the country in 1980.
As more countries sign up to be part of the BRI, so the speedy new service has become possible.
It also saves a lot of money for shippers, and brings jobs to previously under developed locations along the route.
The speed of the new service is down to it utilising the 9,400 kilometre Northern Eurasian Corridor, that takes it from China to Germany via Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus and Lithuania. However, the service is unlikely to become much faster any time soon.
Originally designed, built, owned and operated by foreign companies, railway lines in China use the standard West-European railway gauge of 1.435 metres, whereas trains in Russia and former USSR states run on the broader gauge of 1.524 metres.
As such, freight need be transferred between different gauge trains at Małaszewicze, a Polish village and dry port near the Belorussian border, and at Khorgos on China’s border with Kazakhstan. Being one of the furthest points on Earth from any ocean, it is somewhat appropriate that Khorgos is also now home to the biggest dry port in the world, as a result of the BRI.
Within Europe, Poland, Greece, Portugal, Italy, Austria, Luxembourg and Switzerland have all signed agreements of one sort or another with China for cooperation on the BRI.
As such, there will likely soon be many more freight services between Europe and China, such as that which is presently the longest railway route in the world, the 12,874 kilometre line from Madrid, capital of Spain, to Yiwu in Zhejiang Province.
It also goes without saying that trains are faster than ships and cheaper than planes, making them a good bet for China and her BRI.