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China’s New Railway Connection with Europe Passes Through Caspian Sea

By Ilham Karimli April 22, 2022

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The first train, loaded with textile goods, departed from the Xi’an international port on the new route earlier this month. / Courtesy

China has launched a new railway connection with Europe, passing through the Caspian Sea toward the final destination in Germany, according to China.org. The first train, loaded with textile goods, departed from the Xi’an international port earlier this month.

The rail-sea transportation route, which spans 11,300 kilometers and connects China to the German city of Mannheim, traverses several countries and two seas — Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, the Caspian Sea, and the Black Sea.

“The new route covers countries and regions that rarely saw China-Europe freight train services in the past, opening up new markets for domestic and international enterprises,” said Yuan Xiaojun, general manager of the Xi'an Free Trade Port Construction and Operation Co., Ltd., the operator of the freight service.

The new train service, which started in the city of Xi'an, the capital of northwest China's Shaanxi province, is slated to improve transportation efficiency and cut transportation costs for enterprises.

The railway bypasses Russia due to logistical problems and sanctions imposed on the country after its military operations in Ukraine, according to the Russian Kommersant newspaper.

Chinese authorities have long been pushing for stronger ties with Azerbaijan in multiple spheres, including trade and transportation. Beijing's ambitious Belt and Road project has already set its sights on the country.

It is expected to leverage the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (TITR), considered an East-West corridor that passes through the Azerbaijani portion of the Caspian Sea and connects to the country’s railway grid. TITR is said to open up a northern option, where goods can travel from western China into Kazakhstan, then get shipped across the Caspian Sea to the new Baku International Sea Trade Port, which can handle nearly 12 million tons of cargo per year and possibly up to 25 million in the coming years.

TITR is not the only logistical vein that is expected to benefit Belt and Road. The 826-kilometer Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway could also help boost trade. Since coming online in 2017, it connects Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey, and can transport 6.5 million tons of cargo annually. The railway connects to Turkey’s railway grid enabling goods to reach further westward into Europe.

More than one million tons of cargo have been transported on the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway since its launch in 2017. The figures are expected to ultimately reach 17 million tons per year when the railroad is in full swing.

China is also interested in Zangazur corridor project, which connects Azerbaijan’s mainland with the country's southwestern Nakhchivan exclave and Turkiye. The scheduled launch of the railway-highway combined route is set to benefit all countries in the region and contribute to Eurasian trade and transport communications that incorporate the regional economies with a nominal GDP of $1.1 trillion.

Azerbaijan is China’s largest trading partner in the South Caucasus, accounting for 43 percent of Beijing’s trade in the region. As of 2021, overall bilateral trade between the two countries reached $2 billion. Carbon-based electronics, broadcasting equipment, and computer technologies, account for the majority of Chinese exports to Azerbaijan. In turn, Baku supplies the Eastern giant with crude oil, ethylene polymers, and propylene polymers.