Herat to Mazar-i-Sharif and beyond

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There are longer term plans to extend the Herat line onwards across northern Afghanistan. This would connect Herat with Towraghondi (terminus of the short cross-border line from Turkmenistan), Mazar-i-Sharif (future terminus of the line to be built from Hayratan and Uzbekistan), and Shirkhan Bandar (for the border with Tajikistan, where a rail connection is also proposed). This would give a total length of railway from Iran of around 1250 km, and provide a route from transit traffic between central Asia and the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas.

In November 2008 the Asian Development Bank announced that a memorandum of understanding “to expand trade and economic opportunities through railway transport” had been signed on the eve of the seventh annual Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation Ministers’ Conference in Baku.

With the MOU, the Afghanistan Government underlined the importance of developing a railway line between the Afghan cities of Hairatan [Hayratan] which borders Uzbekistan through Mazar-i-Sharif and Herat. The Afghanistan Government has requested technical and financial assistance from ADB in order to prepare a pre-feasibility study for the proposed railway project. Uzbekistan will give its full cooperation in the conduct of the study.1

In January 2009 the Asian Development Bank was seeking consultants to produce a technical assistance report looking into the development of a freight and passenger railway link the existing line from Uzbekistan at Hayratan with Herat via Naibabad and Mazar-i-Sharif. The Japan Special Fund was providing USD1.2m for the eight-month study, with a planned start date of 1 May 2009. The aim of the project is to “enhance economic competitiveness and provide all year link with its neighboring countries, thereby promoting regional cooperation and integration.”2

There has also been talk of taking this line on to China,3 either via a new standard gauge line through Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan,4 if this proves politically possible, or though the Wakhan Corridor, which would require some challenging engineering. This would provide a standard gauge route between China and Istanbul and thus Europe, albeit with a train ferry across Lake Van.

In August 2009 Iran’s Minister of Roads & Transportation Hamid Behbahani called on the Economic Cooperation Organization to provide Afghanistan with EUR3bn in credit for “the construction of a 1 250 km-long railway segment between Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif “. However this distance looks more like the full Herat – Mazar-i-Sharif – Shirkhan Bandar route.5

Next page: Turkmenistan to Imanazar, Aqina and Andkhoy

References

  1. Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and ADB Sign Memorandum of Understanding for Railway Transport Cooperation, Asian Development Bank news release, 20 November 2008
  2. Afghanistan: Railway Development Study, EVD, 2009-03-27
  3. Network expansion is in full swing, David Brice, Railway Gazette International 2008
  4. Iran Welcomes Railway Link to China, Fars News Agency, 2009-03-11
  5. ECO Urged to Invest in Iran-Afghanistan Railway Project, Fars News Agency, 2009-08-23

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