Spain to China by rail: A 21st Century Silk Road riddled with obstacles
When the cargo train from the Chinese manufacturing hub of Yiwu arrived in Madrid on December 9, it was welcomed with a celebration of superlatives.
This “21st-century Silk Road” was the “longest rail link in the world,” longer than the Trans-Siberian railway and the Orient Express combined. And after spending 21 days covering more than 8,000 miles through China, Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, France and Spain, it did set a distance record.
这条“21世纪的丝绸之路”是“全球最长的铁路”，比西伯利亚大铁路（Trans-Siberian railway）和东方快车（Orient Express）的线路加起来还要长。在21天的行程中，这列火车穿越中国、哈萨克斯坦、俄罗斯、白俄罗斯、波兰、德国、法国和西班牙，总行驶路程超过8,000英里，创造了一项新纪录。
The question is, does a commercial cargo service from China to Spain – especially one whose maiden voyage to Madrid included a container filled with kids’ spinning tops – make economic sense?
While it may seem like a fanciful adventure, extreme long distance rail service is an important piece of the international shipping arsenal. Use of the so-called Eurasian Land Bridge between China and Europe is well established at least as far as Germany, which receives some five trains a week.
尽管它听起来像是一种充满幻想色彩的大冒险，但超长距离的铁路运输的确是国际运输中重要的组成部分。在连接中国和欧洲的所谓欧亚大陆桥（Eurasian Land Bridge）上，至少远至德国的运输线路早已颇具规模。每周都有大约五列火车抵达德国。
The recently arrived 30-container train of cutlery, toys, and other consumer goods will return to China after Christmas loaded with wine, ham, and olive oil. In the first half of 2014, international container traffic on the Trans-Siberian rail line rose 8%, to 865,600 teu (20-foot equivalent units).
Long distance rail cargo splits the difference between airplane and boat delivery in terms of price and speed. According to Miklós Kopp, director of freight at the International Union of Railways, sending a 10-ton 40-foot container from Chengdu, China, to Lodz, Poland, takes 12 to 14 days by train, compared to several days by plane (if you include customs and delivery on each end) and some six weeks or longer by boat. The price tag comes to some $40,000 by air, compared to $10,000 by train, and as low as $5,000 by boat, Kopp says.
长距离铁路运输与空运和海运的区别在于成本和速度。据国际铁路联盟（International Union of Railways）货运部主任米克洛斯•科普介绍，把一个10顿重，40英尺长的集装箱从中国成都运到波兰罗兹，经火车需要12至14天，经飞机只要几天（加上通过两国的海关和交货所需的时间），而走海路则需要6周甚至更长。科普表示，在价格方面，空运该箱子大约需要4万美元，铁路运输需要1万美元，而海运只需5,000美元。
“If you go from the center of China to the center of Europe, it’s [rail travel] a good decision, though not as cheap as by sea,” says Kopp.
Still, carrying rail freight across the Eurasian Land Bridge comes with many problems, says Jean-Paul Rodrigue, a professor of global studies and geography at Hofstra University and lead author of the textbook The Geography of Transport Systems.
然而，霍夫斯特拉大学（Hofstra University）全球学和地理学教授、教科书《交通系统地理学》（The Geography of Transport Systems）的主要作者让-保罗•罗德里格表示，通过欧亚大陆桥进行铁路运输也存在许多问题。
For one, freight trains in Europe carry less than half the cargo of such trains in the U.S. because low bridges, tunnels, and other infrastructure problems prohibit the use of double-stack containers. Another problem, Rodrigue says, is that the trip from Germany to Spain adds another week to the journey, cutting out some of rail’s speed and cost advantages.
“Spain is the worst place in Europe to do a train trip. It’s as far as you can get in continental Europe from Asia,” he says. “I think it’s a bit for show, to demonstrate the technology and capability to put on these services. But I have some doubts that these services are commercially feasible.”
Added to these problems, notes Joan Jané, a lecturer in production, technology and operations at Barcelona’s IESE Business School, is that the average winter high temperature in Kazakhstan is 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Such cold temperatures require special containers for sensitive electronic goods, not to mention Spain’s big exports.
此外，巴塞罗那IESE商学院（Barcelona’s IESE Business School）生产、技术和经营课程的讲师琼•简还指出，哈萨克斯坦冬季的平均最高温度是20华氏度。灵敏的电子产品需要用特制集装箱来防护这样的低温，更不用说西班牙的大量出口商品了。
“The train can spend six to eight days in places with very low temperatures,” he says. “And you can’t have frozen wine or ham.”
The three operators of the Spain train – InterRail, DB Schenker Rail, and Transfesa – are still deciding whether to add twice monthly China-to-Spain service in spring 2015. If they do, the service will likely have to take a different form to be profitable.
西班牙铁路的三大运营商InterRail、DB Schenker Rail和Transfesa仍在考虑是否在2015年春季加开两列中国至西班牙的月度列车。如果决定加开，这项服务可能会采用一种不同的盈利模式。
Higher travel costs mean that this kind of train service will be best for high-value goods like electronics and medicines, not cheap toys, says Libor Lochman, executive director of the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER) trade association.
欧洲铁路和基础设施联合会（Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies，CER）执行理事利博尔•洛赫曼表示，高昂的运输成本意味着这类列车最适合运输电子产品或药品等高价值商品，而不是便宜的玩具。
The service could also offer more competitive prices if it were regular and direct to Spain (instead of dropping off and picking up goods along the way), says Jané of IESE. And, he adds, operators could further lower costs by finding high-value goods to sell back to China, making sure containers do not return empty. That will be difficult, as Spain ran a €13 billion trade deficit with China in 2013. (Right now, many containers are sent back from Europe empty; others are filled with cars, car parts, and manufacturing equipment.)
Despite the hurdles, China-Europe rail trade will most likely grow in the coming years. The CER’s Lochman notes that, in the future, a new tunnel opened from the Asian to the European sides of Istanbul could be used for a new Eurasian Land Bridge. And, he says, while it will continue to be impossible to double stack containers, European rail freight authorities are trying to make rail more competitive by upgrading infrastructure to allow for longer, 1,000- to 1,500-meter trains, compared to the 600-meter trains used today.
Still, while traversing a gaggle of countries on the 21st-Century Silk Road may seem romantic (and perhaps even profitable), the method comes with geopolitical problems that planes and boats don’t have to contend with, says Rodrigue of Hoftra.
“You have a lot of border issues,” he says. “You have to think entering Russia with the embargo, that’s going to be a lot of fun.”
vt. 运送；装货；使充满n. 货运；运费；船货