In tune with the city’s history, these trains are suitably called Chang’an, as Xian was called when it was the capital of China’s famous Zhou, Qin, Han and Tang dynasties. These trains are run on the single-roof watch of the Xian International Trade and Logistics Park (XILP), an inland port that also has an e-commerce wing.
Xian has not forgotten its vibrant connections of the Silk Road era with South Asia. The Wild Goose Pagoda in the heart of the city continues to stand out as an emblem of Buddhist monk Xuanzang’s epic journey from the city to Nalanda. The seventh century monument, which has housed sutras and Buddhist figurines brought by Xuanzang, is a powerful symbol of China’s cultural and spiritual connection with India.
Reconnecting the city’s historical linkages with South Asia, one of the Chang’an trains could soon be branching towards Pakistan, which some see as a half-way mark towards India.
Officials in Xian say the train could be heading, on an experimental basis, to a destination along Kashgar to Gwadar corridor (the China Pakistan Economic Corridor). But further advances into India, which currently opposes the CPEC, and other parts of South Asia are likely to remain stalled.
From Xian, the main trunk line of the Chang’an freight trains heads towards Rotterdam in Europe, covering a vast distance of 9,850 km. From this main line, one of the branches heads towards Kazakhstan, covering the Central Asian hinterland. A second off-shoot reaches out to Moscow. The freight train to Kazakhstan takes six days to reach Almaty, covering 3,860 km.
“It has been easier to develop the transport network on the Chinese side, but on account of the differences in cross-border regulations and work culture, coordination with our partners in neighbouring countries has been a significant challenge,” says Li Ping Wei, a top official at the XILP. The Xian-Europe network has also continued to prosper. On September 2, the Xian-Hamburg route, marking yet another artery to Europe, was inaugurated.
A month earlier, the Xian-Warsaw train had also been flagged. The journey took 14 days, covering 9,048 km. Late last year, the enterprising Hong Kong Merchants Group decided to marshal goods from the port cities of Tianjin, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, and channel items via Xian to the Baltic states in Europe, including Lithuania and Belarus.
Much of Xian’s new infrastructure and an industrial surge can be attributed to its official designation as one of the main hubs for China’s inland development, co-linked with the country’s Belt and Road Initiative.
In turn, that has entailed internal networking of Chang’an trains with China’s booming port cities, greatly expanding Xian’s supply-chain. For instance, one of the trains has a dedicated tie-up with China’s Qindao port. That arrangement has enabled Xian’s inland port to access goods sourced from Lyttelton port in New Zealand. Relying on e-commerce, the Xian Logistics Park also arranges chartered freighter flights from Amsterdam, adding yet another dimension to the growing trade with Europe.