Khorgos: The Central Station Of The New Silk Road Has Emerged
The hallmark of the New Silk Road is found in the network of emerging new logistics and manufacturing hubs that are sprouting up at strategic locations from China to Europe.
Khorgos Gateway, a major new dry port that’s rising up from the desert in Kazakhstan’s eastern borderlands, has just taken the next step in the process of developing into the great crossroads of nations that it has been posited to become — a central station along a new Silk Road.
Fueled by the rapidly emerging China-Europe rail network, the Khorgos dream is grandiose but its origins are rooted in pragmatism. The width of train tracks are different in China than in the post-Soviet realm, so trains need to stop and relay their cargo at the border. This simple logistical event is what gave rise to what is rapidly becoming an entirely new, multifaceted economic ecosystem in what was nothing but sand dunes just five years before on the Kazakh / China border. The thinking here is that if the trains need to stop anyway, why not do something with them? Why not leverage this event into something that could bolster both the local economy and position Kazakhstan at the center of a great new matrix of trans-continental transportation and trade? So instead of just being a mere transit zone, where rail cargo pauses briefly before carrying on its way, Khorgos Gateway would become a full fledged logistical hub — a strategic location where products can be shipped in and out from all corners of Eurasia, be warehoused, and even manufactured.
As of today, Khorgos Gateway’s sole function is to transfer containers from trains coming from China and putting them on trains heading to Europe or other international destinations. The dry port is a montage of six sets of train tracks lined up side by side -- the three on the left are for trains coming from China; the three on the right are for trains going west to other Central Asian states or Europe beyond. When trains pull in their platforms are lined up side by side and the containers are simply transferred over from one to the other via giant 41-ton gantry cranes in a process that can be completed in as little as 47 minutes.
What Khorgos Gateway looked like in the beginning, in 2014.
However, very soon the cargo flows coming through here will become exponentially more complex, as Khorgos Gateway was recently approved to become a consolidation hub. This means that the dry port will not only be transshipping direct cargo trains, but will be able to break these trains apart to build new ones, extending the gateway's reach to myriad new destinations throughout Eurasia.
“We will meet all of these trains and make the reloading to the container yard and we will make our own block trains -- full trains to Almaty, to Tashkent, to Europe, to Central Asia, to the Caucasus,” said Zhaslan Khamzin, the current CEO of Khorgos Gateway.
“If you have them all [China-Europe trains] routed into, for instance, Khorgos; from Khorgos, you can then rebuild trains to other destinations directly into Europe or even into the Middle East. It is the same way eastbound. If you have trains coming in with containers from France, from Spain, from Germany, from Poland to Khorgos you can re-consolidate and then onward you can ship these containers further back to Guangzhou, Zhengzhou,” explained Ronald Kleijwegt, HP’s former head of logistics who was an instrumental force behind the development of the first regular China-Europe rail service.
This new development will not only make Khorgos Gateway vastly more versatile but will also allow locally-produced goods to tap into the international cargo flow. So corn products from nearby Zharkent, for example, could be loaded onto trains and easily shipped to destinations from Europe to China. It would also provide a new impetus to invest in the massive DP World-advised logistics and industrial zones that are adjacent to the dry port, which are currently little more than sprawling empty fields.
According to Khamzin, HP is already in the process of moving in to set up a warehousing operation at Khorgos.
“Today, there is HP,” he said. “Tomorrow there will be DHL, Dell, Lenova, Asus, Acer. A lot of companies can come here.”
Khorgos Gateway has recently developed into a consolidation hub.
In order for the New Silk Road to amount to anything, the network needs to be more sophisticated than a few dozen cargo trains that go straight from China to Europe and vice versa, effectively skipping right over all of the markets and potential production sources en route. Khorgos Gateway has become one of the most advanced and impactful projects of the New Silk Road so far, and is now on the verge of developing into a the junction between China, Russia, South Asia, Iran, the Caucasus, and Europe that it was intended to become back when it was nothing more than a dirt lot and a dream.