Freight trains and freighter aircraft on the old Silk Road

A Silk Way West 747-8F prepares to load at Baku, once the center point of the Silk Road.

A Silk Way West 747-8F prepares to load at Baku, once the center point of the Silk Road.

Just five years ago, DB Schenker launched the first China-to-Europe rail freight service, with a single train rolling from Chongqing in west-central China to Duisburg, Germany. Schenker touted the service as cheaper than air and faster than sea, but the launch was met with a certain amount of skepticism in the industry. Changing rail gauges, multiple customs clearances, potential thievery, and extreme temperature variations were all cited as roadblocks to any sort of commercial success. Schenker persisted, but, initially at least, the skepticism seemed justified.

Then, two years later in 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping launched a new economic initiative under the banner “One Belt, One Road.” Said to be the largest economic undertaking since the Marshall Plan following WW II, One Belt, One Road was focused on expanding China’s economic and political reach to and within the countries along the old Silk Road that connected China in the east to Europe in the west.

Last year, over 1,700 freight trains traveled this 21st Century Silk Road, and, two weeks into 2017, the first train from China rolled into London, extending the route as far as it can go.

But, as successful as the concept appears to be, there are many questions to be answered about its future — particularly its impact on the air freight industry.

We will address those questions at the Cargo Facts Asia 2017 event in Shanghai, 25 – 26 April, in a session entitled “One Belt, One Road… One Sky?” Today we are pleased to announce that Wolfgang Meier, Senior Vice President of the Silk Way Group, will participate in the session — particularly appropriate, as Silk Way is based in Baku, one of the central points on the old Silk Road, and its focus is on the Asia-Europe trade lane.

For more information, or to register, go to CargoFactsAsia.com. In the meantime, here are a few videos to provide some historical background on the Silk Road, and on the political and economic significance of the One Belt, One Road initiative.

A brief backgrounder:

The view from Hong Kong:

Some thoughts on the political and economic significance of the initiative:

Following a train along the “Silk Road made of steel.”

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