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Forbes: Power, Potential of New Silk Road Lies in its Versatility

The power and potential of the Belt and Road — aka the New Silk Road — lies in its versatility, wrote Wade Shepard in his article published by Forbes.

This emerging network of revitalized transportation routes and new trading hubs which stretch between China and Europe finds efficiency, security, and healthy competition in the fact that it is not a single route but a network of multiple, interconnected trans-Eurasian corridors, says the article.

Like in the days of the ancient Silk Road, if one corridor goes down due to a change in government, war, an economic upheaval, or a spat over tariffs, cargo can simply be shipped to similar destinations via alternative routes — like a river flowing around a boulder, noted the author.

“Eurasia, the continental landmass that contains both Europe and Asia, is rapidly being drawn into a single massive market covering upwards of 65 percent of the population, 75 percent of energy resources, and 40 percent of GDP in the world, and it is revolutionized rail routes that are the strings tying it all together,” said Shepard in his article.

“There are currently three operational rail corridors that physically connect China and Europe. The northern one goes mainly through Russia, and for the most part follows the route of the Trans-Siberian Express,” says the article.

“The central route goes all the way across Kazakhstan before linking into the northern route in the west of Russia. While the southern route goes through Kazakhstan to Aktau and either crosses the Caspian Sea by ferry or goes around to Iran before going through Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey. Along each corridor the transport time is in the ballpark of 10.5 to 16 days.”

While the north and central overland routes of the New Silk Road are currently booming, the southern one is just now becoming established, said Shepard adding that major initiatives, like the commissioning of the first UK to China direct cargo train last week, the creation of new Silk Way Logistics, a joint venture between three of Europe’s largest freight forwarders, and the Kazakh multimodal company KTZ Express setting up operations in Europe, show that accessing China by rail is becoming increasingly attractive to Western companies.

“As demand for the services on the Southern rail corridor continues to grow, the authorities in Lianyungang and Chengdu are looking to introduce scheduled services into Istanbul in the coming months. Once in place, these scheduled services will enable greater flow of goods along the corridor and spur China-Europe trade,” said Steve Huang, the CEO of China operations for DHL, the German freight forwarding giant who is one of the core companies that are blazing trails along the New Silk Road, according to the article.

Pushing forward regular service on the southern rail corridor is the soon to be launched Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) rail line, which will directly link the port of Baku in Azerbaijan with Turkey, says the article.

“The Baku–Tbilisi–Kars railway is expected to be completed in 2017. Once it’s operational, transportation from China to Turkey will be faster and more cost effective,” Huang continued.