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First Direct China-UK Freight Train Rolls into London

First Direct China-UK Freight Train Rolls into London

The first ever direct freight train service from China to the UK rolled into London on Wednesday completing a mammoth 18-day inaugural trip.

Comprising 34 40-foot containers, largely filled with clothing and other high-street retail stock, the train which is operated by Switzerland-based InterRail Group, left east China's Yiwu City in Zhejiang Province on 1st January.

As part of a ground-breaking 11,999-km (7,456-mile) trip, the route took the freight train through Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, Belgium, France, and finally the Channel Tunnel. The initiative saw a number of freight rail companies covering the various stages of the journey before DB Cargo managed the final leg of the journey from Duisburg to east London.

At Duisburg container terminal, DB Cargo had to load the special 40-foot containers that have been pre-approved specifically for transportation through the Channel Tunnel. It’s not the only stage of the journey with special requirements, though. Due to the differences in railway track gauge across the continents, loads taken along the so-called Silk Road have to be unloaded and re-loaded onto new trains many times. Because of the railway specifications of the former Soviet Union states, the operation employed many different wagons and locomotives in order to keep the load in transit.

The route is the latest to be added to the burgeoning China–Europe rail link, and this week’s journey is thought to be the first in a trial period. Trains will initially run every week while demand is assessed.

Transporting goods by rail is significantly most cost-effective than traditional shipping by sea or by air freight. Indeed, the price tag is said to be less than 50% of the cost of flying and twice as fast as bringing goods by sea.

Due to the faster delivery times, rail freight is preferred for fast-moving consumer goods or those with a limited shelf-life, such as electronics, promotional clothing and automotive parts.

"The fast train route between Yiwu and London takes 30 days less than maritime transportation, while only costing a fifth of air transportation," confirmed Fang Xudong, vice general manager of Tianmeng Industrial Investment.

As part of a new trade route agreed back in 2013, a total of 40 freight train routes have been opened up to connect the Asian continent to various key destinations across Europe.

It’s part of China's ‘One Belt, One Road’ - an initiative which is proving highly successful in resurrecting the ancient Silk Road - the centuries-old name given to the key trading path from the East to the West. Among the 14 cities being linked to China by the new routes are Duisburg, Madrid, Afghanistan and Riga.

Since 2011, DB Cargo has been developing links with multiple partners in order to establish weekly rail freight routes along the Silk Road. Although the route primarily facilitates trade between China and Great Britain, it has also created links to Germany and France to further develop trade relationships between Europe and China.

But with Britain due to leave the European Union after the Brexit vote, the new route could prove pivotal in cementing what may become a vital trading relationship with the Far East.