Inside Story

Will the new ‘Silk Road’ be a success?

A freight train arrived at Barking Station in east London, UK, on Wednesday after a 12,000km journey from China.

On Wednesday, a freight train arrived in Britain after an 18-day, 12,000km journey from China’s Zhejiang province.

Its backers hope it will be the first of many, heralding a modern-day revival of the fabled Silk Road trade route linking Europe and Asia.

The “East Wind” train line carried products worth nearly $5m on its maiden journey to Europe, including clothes, suitcases, purses and wallets – all loaded on to 34 wagons.

On the return journey, it will haul British machinery, Spanish hams and cheeses and German beer.

The term “Silk Road” evokes ancient images of merchants travelling in dusty caravans on journeys taking months.

The modern rail version offers companies the chance to move goods between the continents for about half the cost of air transportation – and, in two weeks, less travel time than that offered by the quickest sea route.

But there are logistical complications.

The containers have to be unloaded and placed on different wagons at various points along the trip, because of different track gauges in some of the countries the train crosses.

So, how effective will this new route be for trade?

Presenter: Sami Zeidan


Steve Tsang – Director of the China Institute at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies

Pauline Loong – Managing director of Asia-Analytica

Charles Parton – Former councillor with the European Union’s China delegation