Transportation (264/365) The New Silk Road

by Lee Santiva September. 21, 2019 175 views
Aerial view of the Marshalling Yard (Rangierbahnhof) in Mannheim, Germany (yes, I took this photo - details at end of blog)

Aerial view of the Marshalling Yard (Rangierbahnhof) in Mannheim, Germany (yes, I took this photo - details at end of blog)

The New Silk Road - Connecting Europe with China

The New Silk Road rail route between Chongqing China and Mannheim Germany opened in 2018 and is revolutionalizing logistics and transportation. The 11,200 kilometer route utilizes existing rail networks across Germany, Poland, Belarus, Russia, Kazakhastan, and China. (*1)

There are 30 trains operating per week to and from China and the three rail ports in Germany: Mannheim, Duisburg and Hamburg (which is also a very large freight seaport). Yet the initiative is much larger – over 70 countries have signed up to be part of the New Silk Road. (*3,4)

The Mannheim shunting yard will get even more traffic as the freight coming from Genua and Triest in Italy gets routed through Germany. The freight is unloaded from the container ships in the Italian seaports and transported via rail through such hubs as Mannheim as part of the New Silk Road.

The New Silk Road initiative is officially called the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)and is sponsored and funded by the Chinese government with an overall investment of $1 trillion and estimated completion in 2049. (*4)

Freight train in Germany

Freight train in Germany

It takes over 35 days to transport freight one-way by sea between China and Europe. Now, with the New Silk Road railway network, it takes only 15-19 days over land. Thus, logistics companies achieve a 50% improvement in transportation times with only a 15% increase in costs. (*1)

German manufacturers in the region, such as Daimler, were the first to take advantage of the New Silk Road by sending 37 containers containing valuable component parts in one train shipment to their automotive manufacturing plants in China. (*1)

Cargo containers transported via rail through Germany

Cargo containers transported via rail through Germany


Before the New Silk Road had opened, Daimler trucked the component parts from their plants near Stuttgart to a warehouse in Speyer. In Speyer the containers are loaded onto 3-4 barges (4 levels of 4 containers on each barge) for transport on the Rhine River to the seaports in Rotterdam(Netherlands). In Rotterdam, the containers are moved from the barges to the ocean freighters and sent to China. (*1)

Cargo ship transporting gas from Rotterdam port (Netherlands) to the refinery near Karlsruhe (Germany) on the Rhine River

Cargo ship transporting gas from Rotterdam port (Netherlands) to the refinery near Karlsruhe (Germany) on the Rhine River

Over the past two years, the drought has greatly impacted freight traffic on the Rhine River due to the dramatically reduced water levels forcing most of the freight onto the already overloaded highways or limiting the capacity which the ship can transport. (*1) This lead to higher prices for gasoline and diesel for everyone (individuals and companies) last year, for example.

Chemical transport by rail

Chemical transport by rail

Despite all of the advantages the overland rail route is offering for cargo transport, one year later the New Silk Road has not gotten much traffic starting from Germany. (*2)

What are some of the reasons for the lack of adoption for the local (Mannheim/Ludwigshafen/Rhein-Neckar region) manufacturers?

German chemical producers like BASF or Roche require specially regulated temperatures in the shipping containers to ensure the quality and stability of their chemical components and/or products during the long transport. The New Silk Road cannot support these requirements today. (*2)

Local manufacturers in Mannheim, like John Deere, don't see a benefit in the improved cargo transportation via rail because there is not a market for their highly sophisticated (and expensive) products in China right now. (*2)

High-tech John Deere tractor outside the factory in Mannheim, Germany

High-tech John Deere tractor outside the factory in Mannheim, Germany

The majority of the freight on overland New Silk Road is flowing from China to Europe with weekly shipments.

The origins of East-West trade routes go back to the first and second centuries BC and brought innovations such as paper to Europe and glass to China. Interestingly, it was the German geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen who gave it the name Silk Road in 1877 AD long after it had been shut down in 1453 AD.(*5)

In the English-speaking (US) media I have never read any mention of the re-opened Silk (rail) Road. There’s only news about Trump and the US-China trade war. As the US is distracted by Trump‘s tweets, China is quietly building up an international trading dynasty for centuries to come.

Related blog:

A few months ago I posted a blog about America's long-distrance freight train: the Union Pacific Railroad.

Note:

I captured the aerial shot (photo #1) during a helicopter (Robinson R44) sightseeing tour of the Rhein-Neckar region in 2015.

Sources

Sources 1-2 are in German, related to Mannheim. Source #1 has a nice 3-minute video (in German). Sources 3-6 are in English related to Silk Road in general

  1. https://www.swr.de/swraktuell/baden-wuerttemberg/mannheim/Neue-Direktverbindung-fuer-Gueterzuege-Von-Mannheim-nach-Chonquing-in-18-Tagen,gueterzug-china-100.html
  2. https://www.rnz.de/wirtschaft/wirtschaft-regional_artikel,-bahnverbindung-mannheim-chongqing-der-chinazug-steht-derzeit-auf-dem-abstellgleis-_arid,464449.html
  3. https://www.handelsblatt.com/today/companies/the-freight-game-how-china-put-duisburg-back-on-the-trade-map/23583018.html?ticket=ST-12940410-S0J2WHmwNoR4CvpTxejq-ap4
  4. https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/aug/01/germanys-china-city-duisburg-became-xi-jinping-gateway-europe
  5. https://newsroom.hermesworld.com/international/global-infrastructure-the-new-silk-road-1135/
  6. https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-middle-east/silk-road



Join the conversation
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There are 15 comments , add yours!
Tsao T-F 4 weeks, 1 day ago

Interesting post and good shots (especially #1 that I like) from Lee and remarkable communication between the reporter and audiences. grinning
By the way, China is so huge and I am trying to be not afraid.fearful
Also, you may like supporting the Petition 95643. prayThank you!
https://epetitionen.bundestag.de/petitionen/_2019/_05/_31/Petition_95643.mitzeichnen.registrieren.html

4 weeks, 1 day ago Edited
Lee Santiva Replied to Tsao T-F 4 weeks, 1 day ago

Thank you for your comments! Taiwan and Hong Kong have had such a struggle to maintain their status lately I understand your concerns! And Inwill take a look at the petition

4 weeks, 1 day ago Edited
Tsao T-F Replied to Lee Santiva 4 weeks, 1 day ago

Thank you, Lee. grinning
Another link for your reference:
(Jan 2019) "Which country will be next?" - Presidents Tsai answers my question. (Taiwanreporter, Klaus Bardenhagen)
https://www.patreon.com/taiwanreporter/posts

4 weeks, 1 day ago Edited
Lee Santiva Replied to Tsao T-F 4 weeks ago

hmm it seems I need to subscribe to read the entire text of the blogs

4 weeks ago Edited
Tsao T-F Replied to Lee Santiva 4 weeks ago

On the website, the video with English subtitle below about "Which country will be next?" - Presidents Tsai answers my question." (2' 46'') is available.
The situation is stated about "Germany never had diplomatic relations with the Republic of China (Taiwan’s official name today) at any time after World War II.cry " in one of TaiwanReporter's articles (no need of subscription):
https://english.cw.com.tw/article/article.action?id=1969
PS. In the half century (1895-1945) before the end of World War II, Taiwan was held by Japan. So my grandfather and grandmother talked each other in both Taiwanese and Japanese.
PPS. The part II of  the documentary “Beyond Beauty: Taiwan from Above” is published in this year (2019). Taiwan breathes the same air as the rest of the world. See the trailer (2' 15''): 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NIq0cMghn5U

4 weeks ago Edited
Camellia Staab 1 month ago

Interesting post Lee and some very nice captures especially the aerial one.

1 month ago Edited
Lee Santiva Replied to Camellia Staab 1 month ago

Thank you! I remember you saying you had worked in the rail industry for awhile, something about „losing“ a train car when you consider the size of the marshalling yard (is that the right word?) I can see how that could happen

1 month ago Edited
Camellia Staab Replied to Lee Santiva 4 weeks, 1 day ago

Yes that is the correct word and I was actually working in sales of an industrial chemical company where we transported the chemicals via rail and lost many in transit.

4 weeks, 1 day ago Edited
Berckmans Peter 1 month ago

China only want high end products from Europe. Also I think the US is blocking a lot of traffic from here to there. Because many concerns have investments in the states. But I like the photo. Good blog

1 month ago Edited
Lee Santiva Replied to Berckmans Peter 1 month ago

Thanks Peter! We‘ll see what happens it‘ll be interesting. Some of my colleagues have noticed they get their ebay items (made in China) faster lately, I suppose it came by rail

1 month ago Edited
Björn Roose 1 month ago

Like the "old" Silk Road it thus is mostly one way traffic (China to Europe), except for the fact that the profits are less "equally" split (the producer of the goods gets more out of it, since there's nearly no middle men). Which was of course exactly what could have been expected since the Chinese dictatorship funded the whole project. The Communist Party out there is everything but crazy ...

1 month ago Edited
Lee Santiva Replied to Björn Roose 1 month ago

Thanks for commenting Bjoern! As a fellow economist you also recognized the significance of this development. Dictatorships can achieve better economic results and economies of scale than (social) democracies. Already the residents of Mannheim are organizing protests, futile, really, because the massive marshalling yard was already there....now its just getting better utilization which is a good thing but our Greens protest everything even though rail freight is better for the climate than highway freight 🙄

1 month ago Edited
Björn Roose Replied to Lee Santiva 1 month ago

Yeah, dictatorships have the possibility to run everything and thus obtain better results in certain fields. They do of course, like democracies, not always fulfill those possibilities (the Soviet Union is not there any longer, but one look at its economic "achievements" over the years is proof enough).

And those Greens are right in a way, although I have no idea if that is behind their protest (people should just be more clear about their ideas sometimes): bringing in, often totally redundant, goods from the other side of the world is a very unecological thing to do, even if that bringing in is done in the most ecological way. Ecology is a multi level issue.

1 month ago Edited
Lee Santiva Replied to Björn Roose 1 month ago

Good point with the Soviets… naw, our Greens aren‘t that sophisticated they are protesting against increased noise along the railway tracks, but they also demonstrate at „Fridays for Future“ against CO2 emissions. You can‘t be against every form of transportation at the same time, our Greens are so extreme they‘d even protest against horse-drawn vehicles (animal rights) 🙄

1 month ago Edited
Björn Roose Replied to Lee Santiva 1 month ago

Bwah, you can of course be against every form of transportation at the same time, but you have to be honest about it. And you have to think it through. That's what most ecologists, just like other people by the way, don't do.

1 month ago Edited
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