More than 2,000 years ago, goods were already traded between China and Europe via the ancient Silk Road. Today, the Chinese government wants to revive these transport routes. The so-called Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) includes, among other things, the establishment of an extensive economic zone between Asia and Europe. It already covers far more areas than the original network of trading routes.
Initially referred to as “One Belt, One Road”, the initiative comprises of two transport routes – the Silk Road Economic Belt by land and the Maritime Silk Road of the 21st Century by sea. Like the ancient Silk Road, it is a network of routes through which goods could be exchanges by road, rail or ship between Asia, Africa and Europe.
Since its announcement in 2013, continental rail services have become an integral pillar for the BRI due to the involvement of China. The network of rail corridors now extends from Europe’s western shores to China’s eastern coast. The Chinese government is constantly pushing ahead with its ambitious plans: In 2014, slightly fewer than 800 trains with a freight volume of 25,000 TEU ran along the New Silk Road between China and Western Europe. 2016 brought an increase to 1,700 trains, with a container volume of 145,000 TEU. According to estimates of the International Union of Railways (UIC), 878,000 TEU were transported on the Eurasian rail corridors in 2020.