A train traveling all the way from Yiwu on China's east coast arrived in London's Barking station on Wednesday afternoon, becoming the first direct freight train to link the UK and China, crossing the deserts, fields and mountains of Eurasia and ducking under the English channel on its epic 18-day, 12,451 km journey.
Diplomats, transport executives and members of the international media assembled to watch the China-Europe Block Train travel the last few hundred meters of the new Yiwu-London line and pull into Barking's cargo terminal on schedule at 1 pm.
"This is the latest practical outcome of China-UK cooperation on the Belt and Road Initiative," said Zhu Qin, a minister from the Chinese embassy in the UK. "Since its first journey in 2011, China Railway Express has reached many destinations in Europe and Asia. It has become a tangible link between China and Europe, a symbol of China-Europe cooperation. It has contributed greatly to connectivity in the Eurasian continent, and the economic development of the wider region."
The new service is operated by China's Yiwu Timex Industrial Investment Co, which has been running freight trains twice a week between China, Germany and Spain for more than a year.
The train's engine tugged 68 Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit (TEU) cargo containers bearing 4-million-pounds-worth of goods from Yiwu markets - household wares, clothing, fabric, bags and other small commodities. The train crossed the Chinese border at Alataw Pass, and meandered across Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, Belgium and France, and under the English Channel to reach the UK.
Because of differing gauges on its route, the containers were offloaded several times.
Oscar Lin, manager of the service's UK agent, London-based Onetwothree Logistics, told China Daily the service is currently accepting bookings for the return journey.
Transporting goods by train is not only half as cheap as air transport, it also takes half the time sea shipping does. The train departed in Yiwu on Jan. 1, taking just 18 days to travel 12,451 km - which is roughly the entire coastline of the United Kingdom.
Yiwu is the largest small commodities trading center in the world, and each year produces more than half the world's Christmas decorations. Exports from Yiwu to the UK had a value of 621 million dollars (502 million pounds) in 2015, and 569 million dollars (461 million pounds) from January-November 2016, representing a 10 percent increase for the same period the year before.
Rajesh Agrawal, London's deputy mayor for business, said: "The arrival of the first freight train from China shows that London is a leading destination for Chinese businesses, offering firms access to markets, expertise and capital, as well as an entry point to the West."
The new service falls in line with China's Belt and Road international development strategy is an initiative proposed by President Xi Jinping in 2013 that focuses on connectivity and cooperation among countries geographically close to China. United Kingdom has expressed its desire to be an active partner on the initiative.
Last year Lord Sassoon, a Conservative peer with extensive Chinese business links, presented Xi with the China-Britain Business Council's report on the Belt and Road Initiative, outlining several areas in which UK companies were collaborating on infrastructure and energy projects along the trade route.