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China’s Steel Silk Road rolls on (The Hindu)

The railway station on the outskirts of Xi’an, the starting point of the ancient Silk Road, is set amid a sprawling complex where a large space is occupied by a sea of containers. From here, cargo is transported by a regular stream of trains that make their way into Central Asia and Europe. Plans are afoot to connect Xi’an with south Asia via a rail link. The trains are called Chan’gan, the ancient name of Xi’an. In a different age, Chang’an was the capital of the Zhou, Qin, Han and Tang dynasties.

Earlier this month, a freight train from Xi’an made its début towards Budapest, Hungary. In its 17-day journey — 30 days shorter than the previous sea and rail route — it would first encounter the Alataw Pass. After crossing this landmark in Xinjiang province, it would enter the rolling steppes of Kazakhstan, en route Russia, Belarus, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia before reaching Hungary.

The train to Budapest is the fourth edition of the China-Europe rail link. Earlier trains from Xi’an have headed to Warsaw, Hamburg and Moscow. In turn, these trains are steeling the Ancient Silk Route, as part of the China- led trans-Eurasian Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB). As the SREB project gathers steam, new rail arteries are also opening up, with an eye on Pakistan, India, Iran and Afghanistan — the civilisation hubs of the ancient Silk Road.

Apart from Xi’an, Yiwu, the bustling coastal city in east China, is also emerging as another starting point of the steel Silk Road. A train from Yiwu now heads towards Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan’s commercial hub. The Yiwu-Mazar-e-Sharif journey takes about 15 days.

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