From Silk Road to Silk Road Railway
However, a trip along the ancient Silk Road was never the romantic journey the name suggests. In the course of travelling thousands of kilometres, merchants had to contend with extremes of climate and terrain as they crossed snow-capped mountains and vast deserts. Such was the hardship, it was rare for anyone to undertake the entire journey. Instead, goods would usually be carried by teams of caravans, working in relays.
Time flies. Today, the camel caravans have been replaced by trains. And the goods are being shipped at speeds the ancient merchants could never have imagined.
Two thousand years ago, it would take a year for merchandise to be transported between China and Europe. But today, consumer goods can reach London in just 14 days, thanks to the Silk Railroad – an international freight railway network that connects China to cities across Europe.
China-Europe Railway Express
A key stop on this network is Yiwu, in east China's Zhejiang Province. Today, the city is one of China's leading trade hubs.
Until recently, goods from Yiwu bound for Europe would take a two-hour drive just to reach the nearest seaport in China. There, they followed a two-month journey across the ocean. Today, Yiwu is thriving, thanks to a direct overland rail connection to Europe – the Silk Railroad.
From a massive freight terminal here that's part of the multi-billion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative aimed at boosting international trade, cargo has been dispatched overland to Europe since 2014.
Which countries will train pass-through?
Madrid is one of the destinations. The 10,000-kilometer journey from Yiwu, across Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, France and into Spain, takes 16 days, compared with six weeks by sea. The trains, when they return, carry cargoes that include fine Spanish wines and other luxury items that are finding a growing market in China.