Spain-China Rail Link: A 21st Century Silk Road

Spain-China Rail Link

Who says progress is linear? From before the birth of Christ to the opening up of the sea routes in the mid-15th century, the Silk Road was the prime trading network between East and West. Silks and spice poured into Europe through this vast span of roads and paths crossing central Asia. Cheaper, quicker sea travel ended the importance of the central Asian routes, but that could be about to change.

In 21st Century, the silks and spices have been replaced by plastic toys and stationery, but the East-West overland trade route is alive and well once again thanks to the launch of a new Spain-China rail link.

The first cargo train on the world’s longest railway rolled into Madrid’s Abroñigal freight terminal earlier this month, marking the start of a new era in trade between the countries.

After starting in Yiwu in eastern China, the train completed its 8,000 mile (13,000 km) journey in just three weeks – half as long as it would take ocean vessels to do the same.

Dubbed the ‘21st Century Silk Road’, the cargo train passed through Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, and France before entering Madrid. It was a test run to expand an existing service that links China with Germany five times a week.

While the rolling stock had to be changed three times because of incompatible rail gauges, the route is quicker and produces less emissions than it would to move the same goods by seas.

Spain’s trade with China is huge, worth about £16 billion every year and the biggest partner outside of the EU. Wine, ham and olive oil will head East to China’s growing luxury market, supporting jobs and business in Spain.

One thing is made clear with the rail link, the nexus of the original Silk Road has been turned upside down. Nowadays the market for luxury items works in reverse; produced in Europe, sold in China. The Silk Railway is a stark reminder of this.