The Eurasian Landbridges

The Eurasian Landbridges: Northern Corridor and Central Corridor

The Eurasian landbridges are a set of railway lines connecting Asia to Europe.

The main arteries of the Northern Corridor are the Trans-Siberian Railway, the Trans-Manchurian Railway, the Trans-Mongolian Railway, and the Baikal Amur Mainline (BAM; opened in 1991). The Trans-Siberian Railway offers a transit time ranging from 12 to 18 days along a 10,000 km route. According to Russian railways, the Trans-Siberian Railway capacity will amount to 180 million tons in 2023 (1.5 times more than in 2018).

Rail connections using the Central Corridor between China and Europe (via Kazakhstan and Russia) have seen strong development. Since 2013, Kazakhstan has become a key transit area with two important border crossings with China: the Alashankou/Dostyk crossing and the Khorgos/Altynkol crossing. At Khorgos Gateway, rail cargo is transferred between trains as the rail gauge in Kazakhstan, Russia, and other former Soviet states is wider than the Chinese and European rail gauge. The dry port Khorgos Gateway also includes a special economic zone. The same type of transit operations takes place in a number of terminals at the Belarusian-Polish border, with the Brest (BY)/Małaszewicze (PL) border crossing and Bruzgi (BY)/Kuźnica (PL) crossing being the most important nodes.

Dozens of new regular rail services have been introduced since 2013. In 2019, 8,225 trains traveled between China and Europe compared to only 80 trains in 2013. The container volume reached 725,000 TEU in 2019. About 88% of the freight traffic on the Central Corridor is westbound. The container traffic is more balanced: only 5% more trains went from China to Europe than in the opposite direction in 2018. At present, container trains run between 50 cities in China and 40 cities in Europe. Among the main destinations in Europe are Duisburg, Hamburg, and Nuremberg in Germany and Łódź and Małaszewicze in Poland. Duisburg, Europe’s largest inland port, has become the most important rail hub for freight trains running between China and Europe, with intra-European connections to many other inland ports and seaports. The main Chinese rail centers for China-Europe services include Zhengzhou (Henan Province), Wuhan (Hubei), Hefei (Anhui), Chengdu (Sichuan), Urumqi (Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of China), Lanzhou (Gansu Province), Yiwu (Zhejiang), Chongqing, Tianjin (Jiangsu Province), Xian (Shaanxi) and Shenzhen (Guangdong).

Other routes between China and Europe include:

  • The Middle Corridor from China to Turkey, also referred to as the Transport Corridor Europe – Caucasus – Asia (TRACECA), connects Eastern Europe, Black Sea, Caucasus, Caspian Sea, and Central Asia. From the Chinese perspective, this landbridge originates from Xi’an in the center of China and passes through Kazakhstan to reach a port near the Caspian Sea. Specially-equipped ships transport the wagon combinations across the Caspian Sea to the Port of Baku in Azerbaijan. From the Port of Baku, the containers travel to Georgia and Turkey using the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway. The trip typically takes about 12 days.
  • In 2014, the final link in the modern North-South railway corridor connected Iran, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan was officially inaugurated to conduct transit between the Persian Gulf and Central Asia. From Teheran, the line further connects to Turkey.