World’s longest railway stalled in Madrid

World's longest railway stalled in Madrid
The first freight train to link China directly to Spain arrived in Madrid on December 9th after a 21-day journey. Photo: AFP
A freezing Russian winter and high transport costs have postponed the return voyage of a new train which operators hope will regularly travel the 13,000-kilometre (8,000-mile) route between Madrid and the Chinese city of Yiwu.

The train arrived in Madrid to great fanfare in early December after a 21-day trip through Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, and France.

But the return voyage of the service — still in its test phase — has been beset by problems including Russia's winter and costs that are 20 to 30 percent higher than the traditional sea route, according to Spain's El País newspaper. 

Operators had had hoped the train would be back in China in time for Chinese New Year on February 19th, replete with 30 containers bearing goods including olive oil, Spanish wine and even the Spanish ham known as jamón — all of which are increasingly popular with China's huge middle class.

The new overland service offered by the train is ten days faster than sea routes and is not affected by ocean conditions. However, the higher costs are putting companies off placing their goods on the railway.

For the wine, Russian temperatures of –20C to –30C also cause serious problems with the train's operators now considering moving goods to temperature-controlled containers at the border of the world's largest country.

In the meantime, the thirty containers set to make the voyage to China remain empty in a Madrid warehouse.

An official delegation is expected to arrive from Yiwu — the world's biggest sales and distribution hub — in the near future with price negotiations set to follow.         

China has two regular direct freight train services to Germany and plans are now underway to create a new China–Spain route running twice a month.