Reliable freight routes will help Pakistan and neighbouring countries cut transportation costs, save time and ease mobility.
By Yasir Habib Khan
If CPEC is handled carefully and Pakistan is able to use it to its advantage, there is a fortune to be made in trade and the industrial market through one of its lesser known projects. This is the Silk Road Rail Network (SSRN), also known as the Eurasian Rail Project or Eurasian trans-continental rail transport network. It is meant to link Pakistan to Eurasian countries; including Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, Turkey and Germany as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This massive overland railroad which will stretch from Myanmar to Germany only exists on paper today, but it is highly likely that it will see the light of day soon as the practical and theoretical issues associated with it have been smoothed out.
Robust and reliable freight routes will help cut transportation cost, save time and ease mobility. China and the Eurasian countries, which include Pakistan, will be able to exploit the SRRN and rejuvenate their economies and change the fate of the entire Eurasian landmass. 80 percent of global trade is currently executed through sea due to a lack of rail networks across the world. Once the SRRN is completed, global trade will be revolutionised. China Railways has already published its master plan for the SRRN, outlining all emerging rail routes. The railway will start at Kunming, the capital of China’s western Yunnan province and connect Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey before ending in the heart of Europe at Hamburg.
However, this project does not include the 1800 kilometre long rail line between Pakistan and China, which is specifically a part of CPEC. The SRRN is part of the Silk Road Train. There is already optimism regarding this plan, because freight trains have already journeyed from China to Europe in the recent past. 7500 mile long rail links are already operating within Suzhou, a major city in the South Eastern Jiangsu province, which leads to Warsaw.
"80 percent of global trade is currently executed through sea due to a lack of rail networks across the world. Once the SRRN is complete, global trade will be revolutionised. China Railways has already published its master plan for the SRRN, outlining all emerging rail routes. The railway will start at Kunming, the capital of China’s western Yunnan province and connect Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey before ending in the heart of Europe at Hamburg"
There are also railways which go from Lianygang to Rotterdam, Chengdu to Lodz, Chongqing to Duisburg, Yiwu to Madrid and Zhengzhou to Hamburg. Currently, these trains move along one of two main routes: either they go north from China to link with Russias Trans-Siberian network or they travel west across Kazakhstan and feed into the Trans-Siberian at Yekaterinburg which divides Europe and Asia.
After the China-Madrid rail connection, the China-London route has been gaining traction. This is the second longest rail route conceived in history. It journeyed from China to the UK, reaching Barking’s Eurohub freight terminal in London in January 2017. The train is famous by the name of ‘East Wind’, getting its inspiration from Chairman Mao who once claimed that “The East Wind shall prevail over the West.” This train made London the fifteenth European city with direct rail links to China. Last month, the first freight train set off from Standord-le-Hope, Essec for Yiwu in Zhejiang province, China. As Brexit looms, British Prime Minister Theresa May is likely hoping trade ties between the UK and China continue to improve.The train starts its journey from Zhengzhou, which is located on the southern banks of the Yellow River. Once it was known as one of the eight ancient capitals of China, home to the famous Shaolin Monastery. Being a leading national railway hub, it has easy access to Beijing and some other regions by high speed train.
Passing through Baoji, Tianshui, Lanzhou and Zhanye, renowned cities for China huge industrial belt, it reaches at Xinjiang, old route of Silk Road trade that linked to Middle East. This ancient route’ footprints may be found easily by moving into its traditional open-air bazaars of the oasis cities of Hotan and Kashgar. Making headways, train has a route of the old Kazakh capital Almaty, and Astana, Kazakhstan’s modern capital. After penetrating into Russia, train accesses to Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth-largest city. It is place of Ural mountain range considered as the boundary between Europe and Asia.
Before The Silk Road Rail Network made the world sit up and take notice, some initiatives had taken shape in form of “The Trans-Siberian”. After this, various rail routes came into play between East and West. As a major part of the Silk Road Economic Belt, the overland segment of China’s BRI, direct cargo trains are frequently moving between China and Europe.
Yasir Habib Khan
Published in Daily Times, December 23rd 2017.