THE first China-Europe Railway Express service left Xi’an in Shaanxi province on July 1, loaded with consumer goods, new cars and spare parts and bound for Baku in Azerbaijan.

China Railway (CR) is operating a daily freight service to Baku, crossing the Chinese border at Khorgos and running on the Trans-Caspian or Middle Corridor route across Kazakhstan to the port of Aktau on the Caspian Sea.

Consignments then move by ship across the Caspian Sea to Baku in Azerbaijan. End-to-end transit time is 12 days.

The new service is expected to inject impetus into the promotion of trade between China and Europe, and with countries along the new route.

Development of the Middle Corridor for transit traffic to Europe also forms part of China’s Belt and Road initiative.

The Middle Corridor provides the shortest route between the Pacific coast of China and Europe, but its many border crossings and the need to transfer containers between different gauges, and from rail to ship and road, mean that transit times are three times longer than the northern route via Russia.

However, interest in developing the Middle Corridor has increased since the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the start of attacks in the Red Sea on shipping bound for the Suez Canal, as the Trans-Caspian route between China and Europe is the least vulnerable to external shocks.

Subscribers to IRJ can read an in-depth feature on the Middle Corridor in our May issue.