Frankfurt: It is one of the world’s longest railways, an approximately 11,000-kilometre “modern-day silk road” that traverses Russia and Kazakhstan to link a megacity in the heart of China with a key commercial hub in western Germany.
On Saturday, as part of his landmark visit to Germany, Chinese President Xi Jinping is set to visit the last stop on the “Yuxinou” rail line, an industrial feat that promises to revolutionise transport between Europe and Asia.
Duisburg is a steel-making town of around half a million on the confluence of the Rhine and Ruhr rivers that boasts the world’s biggest inland port and is one of Germany’s most important transport and commercial hubs.
Despite the vast distances between them, it takes just 16 days for trains crammed with laptops and electronics to travel to Duisburg from Chongqing, a sprawling metropolitan symbol of rising China with a population of more than 30 million.
Xi is scheduled to welcome a freight train on Saturday afternoon as it completes a journey that has taken it through Central Asia, Russia, Belarus and Poland. Set up in 2011 by a group of rail companies, the Yuxinou is just 2,000 km short of the world’s longest rail line that links Germany to Shanghai. It has shaved more than 20 days off the sea route.
The route is particularly useful for Chongqing — home to vast carparts and IT factories — since it lies 1,500 km from China’s main seaports.
“The value of this rail link, known in China as the ‘new silk road’, is more than just symbolic,” port of Duisburg spokesman Julian Boecker said. “It has found itself a position in the market and now operates up to three weekly services,” he said.
But one of the biggest challenges will be to boost traffic in both directions to make it more profitable. It is not uncommon for the Yuxinou trains, which can transport as many as 50 containers, to be full when they arrive in Duisburg but empty when they return to China which seems to be a problem for the route. It was sea transport which gradually supplanted the historic Silk Road route linking Asia with Europe centuries ago.