China is contemplating building a high-speed rail link to Europe, which would follow the famous ‘silk road’ trade route of 2,000 years ago.
It would help underpin the Chinese plan for a ‘silk road economic belt’, which aims to foster greater economic cooperation and development between China and central Asia.
The link would also make it possible for China to transport goods by high-speed rail from its populous eastern seaboard directly to western Europe, avoiding transportation by sea.
The 6,000km railway would run from western China’s Xinjiang Province, through the former Soviet central Asian republics, across Iran, and then connect with Turkey’s new high-speed network, another branch of which opened last week between Ankara and Istanbul - with Chinese help.
The line would cost about £90bn, and could be fully completed by 2030, according to Zhao Xiaogang, an adviser to the China Institute for Innovation and Development Strategy.
Passenger train speeds will reach 200kph and freight trains 160kph, he told China Daily. “It can be regarded as a new silk road.”
Challenges include geopolitics, funding, and technological issues – notably the different gauges of the region. Central Asian and Middle Eastern trains run on 1,520 mm broad gauge tracks, while China uses the standard gauge of 1,435mm.
The Istanbul-Ankara link was built by a Chinese-Turkish consortium, and the general director of Turkish State Railway Suleyman Karaman expects further China investment in his country’s high speed railway, which would constitute an important part of a ‘silk railroad’.
“We would like to build railroads with our Chinese partners in Turkey or throughout the world,” Karaman said to Xinhua, the state press agency of the People’s Republic of China. Turkey already works on rail projects in central Asia.
A high speed rail link would further develop trade between the two countries, which has risen 45% in the past three years to £17bn.
Additionally it would provide China with better access to the oil and gas of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.
Work on the 1,776km high-speed railway between Xinjiang and Lanzhou in central China is due to be completed next year.
China is also thought to be considering a 3,000km line from Yunnan province that would pass through Laos, Thailand and Malaysia to Singapore.