Hauling New Treasure Along the Silk Road
At The New York Times, Keith Bradsher describes the revival of an ancient trade route:
Azamat Kulyenov, a 26-year-old train driver, slid the black-knobbed throttle forward, and the 1,800-ton express freight train, nearly a half-mile long, began rolling west across the vast, deserted grasslands of eastern Kazakhstan, leaving the Chinese border behind.
Dispatchers in the Kazakh border town of Dostyk gave this train priority over all other traffic, including passenger trains. Specially trained guards rode on board. Later in the trip, as the train traveled across desolate Eurasian steppes, guards toting AK-47 military assault rifles boarded the locomotive to keep watch for bandits who might try to drive alongside and rob the train. Sometimes, the guards would even sit on top of the steel shipping containers.
The train roughly follows the fabled Silk Road, the ancient route linking China and Europe that was used to transport spices, gems and, of course, silks before falling into disuse six centuries ago. Now the overland route is being resurrected for a new precious cargo: several million laptop computers and accessories made each year in China and bound for customers in European cities like London, Paris, Berlin and Rome. [Source]