In the sparsely populated western borders of Xinjiang, a building boom is underway. Though it is only a construction zone right now, it will soon become the third railway link between Xinjiang and Central Asia.
A vast "no man's land" is the border between China and Kazakhstan. Although it is largely empty and uninhabited today, it used to be one of the busiest sections of the ancient Silk Road, with camel caravans and merchants passing it on their way across the continent.
Located at the heart of Eurasia, it is the farthest place from the sea. It has almost become a forgotten area in the time of maritime trade, but now, China is trying to revitalize these landlocked regions along the Silk Road Economic Belt.
Once complete, the railway will link the border town of Tacheng with the oil-rich city of Karamay. Most importantly, it will measure just 300 kilometers long—1,500 kilometers shorter than the current available rail route.
Although the project's completion is still years away, residents of nearby communities have already begun to imagine that future.
Wang Pengfei is a farmer in the border region. Fertile land and Xinjiang's unique climate have made his vegetables a welcome export to Kazakhstan. All that is missing is a way to get them there fast enough to meet demand.
For now, Wang and his neighbors must send their vegetables to Central Asia through truck containers.
Yu Xinli is the largest vegetable collector and transporter in Tacheng. He says even though authorities have established a ‘green passage’ to ensure trade efficiency, each day is a race against time to get the vegetables to market before they lose their freshness.
Vegetables are just one small part of what the trains will carry, and the Karamay-Tacheng Railway is one of the many railways now under construction.
But as they come together, the vast Gobi Desert, silent for centuries, is starting to feel the hustle and bustle of the ancient Silk Road gradually coming back.