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New China-UK rail link to 'revolutionize' freight movement

Dieter Spannknebel | Stockbyte | Getty Images

China launched its first freight service to the United Kingdom on New Year's day, according to the China Railway Corporation.

The service runs from the Chinese city of Yiwu, in the country's eastern Zhejiang province, to Barking in London. The journey lasts for an average of 18 days and more than 12,000 kilometers, according to a Chinese government website.

The route will "revolutionize the way freight is moved from China," Mike White, director of its U.K.-based arm, Brunel Shipping, told CNBC via telephone. He explained that freight transport by sea from China to the U.K. can take twice the time of the new rail link. Also, it offers the potential for "huge savings" on existing air routes.

White added that freight transport by train may also have a green impact as there will be fewer containers on the motorway network should the rail service develop and grow in volume.

The route is the latest development in China's multi-billion dollar Belt and Road initiative, an infrastructure project which aims to connect the Middle Kingdom to the rest of the world via historic trading routes.

The China-U.K. service is operated by China's Yiwu Timex Industrial Investment Co., which already runs freight routes to Spain and Germany. The London service will run once a week during its trial period, though it is not confirmed how long this will last for. It passes through Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, Belgium and France, before arriving in London.

London is the 15th city in Europe to be added to China-Europe freight services, the Chinese government website detailed. It is hoped that the service will "improve China-Britain trade ties (and) strengthen connectivity with western Europe," the China Railway Corporation said.

Yiwu is known for producing small commodities, with the first train being loaded with clothing, household items and suitcases.

According to the World Trade Organisation, Chinese exports totaled $2.27 trillion by the end of 2015, having fallen by three percent in that year.

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