A red freight train loaded with chemical products and motor parts pulled away slowly from Antwerp as the port city was enveloped in dusk on Monday.
The trip will be long but not equally arduous -- a green lane will ensure a smooth ride all the way across the Eurasian continent until its destination in China's southwest industrial hub Chongqing.
The idea is a combination of existing railways. Efforts have been made to discuss possible ways to streamline customs clearance and other procedures, resulting in a 16-day rail voyage for a total of 11,179 kilometers across the Eurasian continent in a test travel earlier this year.
It supplements the 10,800-km Eurasian Land Bridge to northeast China, and will link the country's southwest industrial belt as well as its southern Pearl Delta manufacturing hub with Europe, officials said.
"The aim is to get a green lane. For instance, you have one specific arrangement for customs from Antwerp to China with this train connection," said Koen Helsen, President of POM Antwerp (Development Authority of the Province of Antwerp).
The rail link offers a solution with half of the time in maritime voyage, said Helsen.
The adventure of this scenery between Europe and China is first seen by an Italian trader and traveler called Marco Polo one thousand years ago more or less. Today's direct rail link is focused on freight transport.
"We can create the authorities of the complimentary offers to shipping line governorates to the industry of more solutions with different possibilities," said Alberto Grisone, business manager of HUPAC of Switzerland, the second largest rail freight handler in Antwerp, after Belgium's national rail company NMBS.
Different types of cargo will be combined and transported between the port of Antwerp and China, where a shift is now taking place with the economic growth reaching inland from coastal areas.
"A substantial part of China's manufacturing goods embark on the sea travel to Rotterdam in the Netherlands from its eastern coastal area, and the journey usually takes up to 36 days," said Huang Qifan, the mayor of the Chongqing municipality, which has 32 million inhabitants.
The new rail route is cheaper than air service, and it halves the time for maritime shipment, Huang said, adding that the rail solution is also safer and features easier customs clearance.
The rail link became available for a test service on March 19, when a freight train carrying 72 containers full of IT products, including laptop computers and LAD with a worth of 8 million U.S. dollars, left Chongqing for its destination in Duisburg, Germany.
The train went through the vast land in west China before entering Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus and Poland. It arrived in Duisburg on April 5, 16 days later, 20 days less than a combined rail-maritime travel.
The European terminal of the rail route is in Duisburg, said Zeng Su, the POM Antwerp Chief Representative in Chongqing.
Duisburg, 202 km from Antwerp, is conveniently reachable for ports across over half of Europe, such as Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Hamburg, etc, Zeng said.
Therefore, the rail route would be of strategic importance for trade across the Eurasian continent, he said.
Cargos going through the rail route have to be high value-added, and people could only find motor components and chemical products on the Monday freight from Antwerp to Chongqing, Zeng said.
Processed food unique to Europe and heavy machinery could also ride on the lane and other items like German leather products, Polish ambers as well as Russian sculpture art works could find their ways to the market in western China, he said.