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18 January 2017
New Silk Road? 1st China-London freight train arrives
The first direct freight train service from China to Britain arrived in
London Wednesday, another leg in Beijing's plans for closer trade ties
with Europe along a modern-day Silk Road.
The 18-day trip saw dozens of containers packed mainly with clothes and household goods transported from the city of Yiwu in eastern China to a freight terminal in Barking in east London, via Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland and western Europe.
The train entered Britain from France through the Channel Tunnel, completing a journey of some 7,500 miles (12,000 kilometers). The service offers businesses a new middle ground between shipping and air freight — it's quicker than sending goods by sea, and cheaper than transporting by air.
China Railway already has more than 10 freight train services to several European destinations including Madrid and Hamburg. They are part of President Xi Jinping's "One Belt, One Road" policy to revive the fabled Silk Road trading routes to the West.
Weekly trains will initially be run to assess demand.
Analysts say the service is not yet economically significant, because the volume that can be transported is small compared with using container ships.
There also isn't yet a return service to transport goods from Britain back to China, though this could be in the works. Other European countries have used the service to export items like wine and olive oil to China, said Ramon Pacheco Pardo, an international relations lecturer at King's College London.
"Economically (its significance) is still quite small. But politically it's very significant because China wants to show it is connecting directly with Europe," he said.
The European Union is China's largest trading partner, with Germany and France being the biggest players.