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Rail is the new silk road

It normally pops up in history text books.

But a new one is forming, working its way around all the geopolitical tension and undercurrents.

Container traffic already moves on railway lines covering distances of over 1000 kms a day – connecting Europe to China via Mongolia, since 2017

For centuries, ships were the dominant way to manage trade between continents

But there is significant progress being made in unifying railway line widths and connections right across Europe, Russia and China.

It’s the same problem as electric plugs in one country not being compatible in another but at a different scale. The gauges in one country are not compatible with the neighboring ones.

As long as trains only moved within a country, it didn’t matter. But if it loses out on trade simply because rail lines are narrow, change begins because every country wants a share.

It will take a few decades. Agreements that have to be worked out between nations as goods transit multiple countries on journeys.

New destinations will spring into prominence on land as they become transit hubs and reroute goods from rail to road and the seas.

India is now part of the new Silk rail route

These are long journeys

However, for cargo, it makes no difference

A recent article in the Indian Express featured paper products being shipped from Finland to India by rail

Various rail networks within countries are slowly snaking their way outwards.

Bringing a new dynamism to trade links that have existed for centuries.

New alternatives to shipping that are being built and extended throughout the world.

The surprising aspect is the time it saves.

What used to take 40 days to ship can now arrive at destinations in a couple of weeks – the Finland to Mumbai train is an example.

The possibilities of new trade links being forged also increases exponentially when goods only need to be shipped to the closest railway station, not a port.

The processes and paperwork need to evolve, of course.

But we’ve seen that trade is the great motivator.

Getting countries to sit down, negotiate and work out methods by which this can be managed.

We’re seeing trade infrastructure evolve in new ways.

Some of it may threaten established shipping routes. But that is a long story and decades away.

It could even open up the romance of month-long train journeys for leisure passengers on holiday, which is untapped demand.

Think of cruise ships and watching horizons of water as far as the eye can see in every direction.

On train journeys, the landscapes that unfold can be breathtaking.

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