Pajhwok Afghan News reports that Public Works Minister Najibullah Awzhan announced on 3 October 2013 that work on a 75 km railway between the Kaldar district of Balkh province and Tajikistan “would be launched in the next six months”. The $200m cost is to be met from the ministry’s development budget.
While special police units are to be deployed to provide security for the construction work, the minister hopes there will be no problems and project will “help boost economic activity in the country.”
Unfortunately the Ministry of Public Works website is currently broken.
Kaldar district is the area bounded by Hairatan to the west and the Amu Darya river forming the border with Tajikistan to the east. From a map, 75 km looks to be about the right distance for a line starting from the existing railway at Hairatan and running to the Tajik border. There is an existing railway in Tajikistan, which the new Afghan line could connect to.
In July 2013 RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan reported – with a handy map – that this route had been given “tentative approval”. It is intended as a temporary measure, pending completion of a planned 300 km line to the Tajik border at Shirkhan Bandar. Public Works Minister Najibullah Ojan told RFE/RL that the temporary link would be dismantled “once the longer section via Konduz is completed in about four years”.
The question must be what this future line would carry. It is hard to imagine that there is sufficient Afghanistan – Tajikistan traffic to justify building a railway.
The existing railway lines to Tajikistan all pass though Uzbekistan. Relations between the two countries have been troubled, and there have been reports of wagons for Tajikistan being delayed in Uzbekistan. Even after this new railway line opens, any traffic from the wider world to Tajikistan would still need to transit Uzbekistan en route to Afghanistan and thence Tajikistan, so presumably traffic for Tajikistan using this new line would still be vulnerable to disruption if the Uzbek authorities knew where it was going?
The new line would really come into its own if/when the future line from Turkmenistan to Andkhoy in Afghanistan line is extended to connect with the Hairatan – Mazar-i-Sharif line. That would then provide a through route from Turkmenistan to Tajikistan via Afghanistan, bypassing Uzbekistan altogether. And in the longer term, there is the possibility of a China (- Kyrgyzstan?) – Tajikistan – Afghanistan – Iran – Turkey – Europe route, albeit with lots of borders to cross, two breaks of gauge and the train ferry across Lake Van.