Services got rolling on Monday morning on a new 9,900km railway cargo route linking the Shenzhen port of Yantian with the Belarus capital of Minsk, adding another trade line to China’s planned economic corridor through Eurasia. A train with 41 containers, packed with Chinese products from mobile phones to car parts, is expected to take two weeks to reach Minsk via Central Asia. Chinese cities are jockeying to launch “direct cargo trains” to Europe to support President Xi Jinping’s ambitious new Silk Road trade plan known as the “Belt and Road Initiative”. The inland city of Chongqing now has a regular rail cargo service to Duisburg in Germany, and the export hub of Yiwu in eastern China has similar services to London and Madrid. Puffing across the ‘One Belt, One Road’ rail route to nowhere According to state-owned rail operator China Railway, 29 Chinese cities, including Shenzhen, have launched direct freight lines to Europe, although most routes are along the same track. Zhang Chunhua, chairman of industrial supplier China Brilliant Group, is a key backer of the Shenzhen-Minsk freight link. Zhang said that as part of a joint venture with German logistics firm DHL, China Brilliant had ploughed 80 million yuan (US$11.6 million) into building warehouses along the route, training staff, and upgrading surveillance. DHL was helping to woo clients, Zhang said. “The idea behind the rail connection is to establish Shenzhen as Asia’s centre of cargo transfer and to improve the Pearl River Delta’s exports,” he said. Zhang said many electronics firms in Shenzhen had been forced to send their shipments to Yiwu for forwarding to Europe because Shenzhen lacked a direct link with the continent. He said there would be one westbound train service a week, and a return service would start next month. The centrepieces and setbacks along China’s new Silk Road Services might be expanded and the route extended to Hamburg in Germany, Zhang said. DHL greater China chief executive Steve Huang said China’s belt and road plan offered opportunities for companies to combine maritime and rail routes. “In the past, there was a big demand for passenger transport on China’s rail network. Now that the country’s high-speed trains can meet that demand, there is more room on the rail lines for freight services,” Huang said. He said transport by rail was faster than sea freight and cheaper than air cargo. A shipment usually takes more than a month to get from China to Europe by sea.