TAT Railway

Previous page: Turkmenistan to Imanazar, Aqina and Andkhoy

Map of the Turkmenistan - Afghanistan - Tajikistan railway project
Image: Appleton Consulting

Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan are developing plans for a railway corridor which would be created by extending the future Atamyrat – Aqina – Andkhoy railway through northern Afghanistan to the Tajik border. The project is known as the “TAT Railway”, from the initials of the countries involved.

The total project covers a line around 635 km long; numbers vary a bit, and would depend on the route selected. After crossing the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan border at Aqina the line would run to Andkoy, then eastwards via Sheberghan to meet the existing line from Uzbekistan to Mazar-i-Sharif. There has been some disagreement about the best course for the section of the TAT Railway east of Mazar-i-Sharif. The initial plan was for a route serving Khulm, Kunduz and the Amu Darya river port of Shirkhan Bandar on the Afghan-Tajik border. It would cross the river enter Tajikstan, terminating at Kolkhozabad (Kalkhor Abad, Jaloliddina Rumi) on the existing railway from Uzbekistan to Qurghonteppa (which was formerly known as Kurgan-Tyube, with many variant spellings of either name). However, Tajikistan has proposed a more direct (and thus quicker to build) line from Mazar-i-Sharif to its border, at least on a temporary basis.

The cost of the TAT Railway has been put at between US$1.5 and US$2.0bn.1 Tajikistan and Afghanistan would need to seek external funding for their sections, with potential sources including the Asian Development Bank, Islamic Development Bank, Japanese government and China.

The TAT Railway is intended to support economic integration of the countries,2 and enable transit traffic to reach Tajikistan without having to cross Uzbekistan. “Commissioning of the railway will make this route an inseparable link of the modern ramified transport and communications infrastructure in the Asian region”, Turkmenistan’s official news agency said in September 2015.3

Planning

On 28 April 2009 the Asian Development Bank annnouced that it had approved a technical assistance grant of US$1.2m to fund a feasibility study for two railway routes in the north of the country, as part of its 2009 pipeline for non-lending products and services as set out in its 2009-13 country partnership strategy.4 The Afghan government would make an in-kind contribution equivalent to a further $60,000, and the Ministry of Public Works would be be the executing agency for the study.

The study was to consider two proposed lines:

ADB would assess long-term traffic demand before making recommendations to the Afghan government on the two routes.

ADB said rail would provide a more reliable and cost-effective option for moving people and goods than the road network, and could “help Afghanistan unlock its significant mineral, industrial and agricultural wealth.” An expanded rail system would also “help Afghanistan realize its strategic potential as a gateway linking Central, South Asia and the Middle East”, and support the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) transport corridors programme.

In 2010 ADB published the Afghanistan Railway Development Study it had financed,6 which was compiled by HB Consultants Ltd of Bangladesh in association with ABCD Consultants7 of Afghanistan and Hi-Tech Consultant Ltd of Afghanistan.8

There were two parts to the study: Phase I covered the feasibility study for the Hairatan – Naibabad – Mazar-e-Sharif line, which at the time the report was published had already been authorised and was under construction. Phase II was a pre-feasibility study for a Herat – Mazar-Sharif – Sherkhan Bandar line with a branch to Aqina.

After analysing possible routes, the report recommended that detailed design should be undertaken for a 1 105 km Northern Corridor. This would be primarily a freight railway with an initial capacity of 10-12 daily train pairs, but would have passive provision for future passenger services which could be operated by diesel multiple units to provide “frequent ‘day return’ services at low cost” to “encourage mobility and aid unification of the country.”

Proposed Northern rail corridor
Section Route Length, km Cost, US$ million Construction period, years
1 Herat – Naibabad 781 3,956 4
2a Naibabad – Sherkhan Bandar 217 1,118 3
2b Sheberghan – Aqina 107 567 2

A “primary objective” of the Northern Corridor was to establish “a totally new rail corridor between Central Asia and world markets, by providing speedy access to the Indian Ocean” via Iran, and as such the report recommended that 1435 mm standard gauge be adopted, with transhipment and/or gauge changing equipment where required to link to other countries.

On 16 June 2010 the Asian Development Bank approved a further US$700 000 from its Technical Assistance Special Fund for further studies.9

On 25 October 2012 the Asian Development Bank approved the Ministry of Public Works’ shortlist of six bidders for the Northern Afghanistan Railway Study contract:10 Request for proposals were sent out by the Ministry on 6 November 2012, with a closing date of 23 December 2012.

On 20 March 2013 a memorandum of understanding between Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan was signed at a trilateral meeting of the three presidents in Ashgabat.11 The three countries agreed that within one month from the date of signing they would hold meetings of experts from the ministries and agencies which would undertake detailed studies for the route and establish the organisational, legal and financial basis for implementation of the project. Construction was to begin in early July 2013.

A joint press conference the three presidents described the project as important for enhanced trade and economic development in the countries in the region. Afghanistan’s President Karzai said the line railway would play an important role in strengthening the regional economies.12

In early May 2013 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan hosted government delegations of three countries at the first meeting of the joint co-ordinating workgroup for constructon of the TAT Railway.13

In July 2013 Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Works gave tentative approval to a shorter route for the line, which would bypass Kunduz and instead link Balkh province to Tajikistan at a point further west than Sherkhan Bandar. Minister Najibullah Awzhan14 told RFE/RL that the time and cost needed to complete the “momentous project” had led the authorities to consider building this 50-60 km temporary link, which would be dismantled once the 300 km route via Kunduz was completed in “about four years”. Unsurprisingly the Governor of Kunduz, Mohammad Anwar Jagdalak, was unimpressed with this idea. He told RFE/RL the new proposal would “prove disastrous for Sherkhan Bandar”, saying “we are petitioning our President to plead that the move violates the principle of balanced regional development.”15

On 3 October 2013 Minister of Public Works Najibullah Awzhan announced on that work on a 75 km railway between the Kaldar district of Balkh province and Tajikistan “would be launched in the next six months“.16 The US$200m cost was to be met from the ministry’s development budget, and special police units were to be deployed to provide security for the construction work. Kaldar district is the area bounded by Hairatan to the west and the Amu Darya river forming the border with Tajikistan to the east, and 75 km is about the right distance for a line starting from the existing railway at Hairatan and running to the Tajik border.

On 11 December 2013 Systra’s Canadian freight railway consultancy Canarail and its partner Appleton Consulting Inc, which specialises in programme management for projects in Afghanistan, announced that the Ministry of Public Works had commissioned then to undertake the feasibility study for the proposed 300 km rail corridor which would extend the operational Hairatan to Mazar-i-Sharif railway from Mazar-i-Sharif west to the Turkmen border and northeast to the Tajik border.17 The contract was worth C$3·7m, and work on the study was scheduled to get underway in February 2014 for completion within 12 months. Funding for the Northern Afghanistan Rail Study was provided by the Asian Development Bank.18

The study would build on the conclusions and recommendations of ADB’s previous Railway Development Study. Canarail said that if the lines proved to be feasible they could foster cross-border and regional trade, increase rail usage, ensure the viability of the initial railway investment and introduce competition in rail operations.

“Afghanistan has a vast potential for developing the mineral extraction sector, which may be an engine of self-sustaining economic growth in the near future”, said Canarail President & CEO Miguel Valero.

Canarail told Railway Gazette International that as part of the study “we have to provide justification and make recommendations as to the gauge to be adopted for development of the railway network in the country”. Canarail said “consideration will be given to the gauge in operation in other countries in the region to facilitate unhindered movement of goods and passengers across the borders.”19

Consultant Thomas Kennedy developed traffic forecasts for the Northern Afghanistan rail network in 2014-15, having previously worked on a “Special market study in Uzbekistan for Northern Afghanistan Railway” in 2014.20

On 28 January 2014 the head of Tajik Railways, Amonullo Hukumatullo, reportedly told journalists that Afghanistan had agreed to drop its preferred route via Shirkhan Bandar in favour of an alternative route proposed by Tajikistan which would run from Kelif on the Turkmenistan/Afghanistan border to Hoshadi in Tajikistan.21 Business New Europe quoted Hukumatullo as saying “The Afghan delegation agreed to compromise after we explained how important the new railway is to Tajikistan, which is currently experiencing great difficulties due to the blockade of goods by Uzbekistan”.

Kelif (Келиф) has little in the way of an internet presence but seems to be situated in Turkmenistan on the north bank of the Amu Darya river which forms the Turkmenistan/Afghanistan border. It is close to the Uzbek border, on the railway from Turkmenistan to Termez. Hoshadi (Хошади, Khoshady, etc) has even less of an online footprint. Maps are inconsistent, but it appears to be somewhere near Shaartuz (Шаартузском) on the Tajik side of the Tajik/Uzbek border on the railway to Qurghonteppa.


View Kelif – Hoshadi railway proposal in a larger map

This proposal appeared to be in effect a bypass which would to enable traffic to reach Tajikistan without transiting Uzbekistan, rather than an attempt to serve northern Afghanistan in its own right. RIA Novosti quoted Hukumatullo as saying the revised route would be a little more the 200 km. Tajikistan would be able to avoid paying high fees to Uzbekistan and risking transit problems, while Afghanistan would receive income from transit traffic. The annual volume of freight was given as 5 million tonnes.22

Turkmenistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs was not happy with this change of plan, and expressed “extreme concern and misunderstanding related to the statement of the Tajik official.” The Ministry said that the co-ordination of multilateral projects should be “conducted on the principles of mutual respect and equality of all parties involved”, and deciding the route “without the participation of Turkmenistan” was “tendentious and absolutely unacceptable for the Turkmen side”. Turkmenistan expressed “strong protest” and noted that “such kind of statements have counterproductive character.”23

In November 2014 it was reported that studies had been completed for the 220 km section of line from Andkhoy to Mazar-i-Sharif. Studies for the next 275 km (presumably the link to Tajikistan) were to be completed in 2015. However, the Afghanistan Railway Authority said engineers and workers faced serious problems with the lack of security between Mazar-i-Sharif and Andkhoy, which prevent work after 16.00.24

On 5 November 2014 Appleton Consulting Inc and Canarail announced that the scope of their December 2013 contract for the northern Afghanistan railway feasibility study had been extended from 300 km to approximately 700 km.25

The Project would be implemented in two phases:

  • Phase One: Kholm via Sheberghan and Andkhoy to Aqina on the Turkmenistan border.
  • Phase Two: Kholm via Kunduz to Sherkhan Bandar on the Tajikistan border.

This is the first railway project to be managed by the Afghanistan Railway Authority, which was established in 2012 to develop more than 3000 km of railway. The major stakeholders in the project include the ministries of Public Works, Mines & Petroleum, Transport, Agriculture and “various other national and regional organizations.”

Construction

Construction of the section of the TAT Railway from Atamyrat in Turkmenistan to the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan border was officially launched by Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai and Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon with a ceremony at Atamyrat on 5 June 2013.26

Future

The line could eventually form part of a China to Iran corridor.

Next page: Future plans

  1. Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tadjikistan Railway Project Inaugurated, Sergei Medrea, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 14 June 2013
  2. Strengthening transport potential of the region, Turkmenistan: the Golden Age, 16 May 2015
  3. President of Turkmenistan received the governmental delegation of Afghanistan, Türkmen döwlet habarlar agentligi, 17 September 2015
  4. Boost for Afghan Plan to Develop Railway System, Asian Development Bank, 28 April 2009
  5. Also written Shir Khan Bandar etc
  6. Afghanistan: Railway Development Study. Report dated May 2010. Submitted to ADB 25 September 2010
  7. Now Accord Worldwide
  8. probably the same entity as US/Afghan company Hi-Tech International Engineering
  9. Railway Development Study (Supplementary) : Afghani., Is Rep. of, Asian Development Bank, 16 June 2010
  10. , Asian Development Bank
  11. First Meeting Of The Workgroup On The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan Railway Project, Türkmen döwlet habarlar agentligi, 13 May 2013
  12. MoU of Railway Construction Signed between Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, Office of the President, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, 20 March 2013
  13. First Meeting Of The Workgroup On The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan Railway Project, Türkmen döwlet habarlar agentligi, 13 May 2013
  14. Also written as Ojan
  15. Afghan Province Upset At Being Left Out Of Touted Rail Network, Abubakar Siddique, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 31 July 2013
  16. Work on railroad to begin in 6 months, ‌Zabihullah Ihsas, Pajhwok Afghan News, 3 October 2013
  17. CANARAIL signs a $3.7 million deal in Afghanistan, Canarail press release, 10 December 2013
  18. A 22 September 2015 Canarail presentation on working with the ADB
  19. Afghan government commissions east – west rail study, Railway Gazette International, 11 December 2013
  20. Feasibility Studies, ThomasLKennedy.com
  21. Turkmenistan angered by Tajik-Afghan rail deal, Business New Europe, 3 February 2014
  22. Маршрут участка желдороги Туркмения-Афганистан-Таджикистан согласован, RIA Novosti, 29 January 2014
  23. Press release for mass media, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Turkmenistan, 31 January 2014
  24. Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan Railway project to be completed soon if challenges addressed, Afghanistan Times, 1 November 2014, citing Yama Shams, General Director & CEO of the Afghanistan Railway Authority speaking in an interview with Radio Azadi
  25. Appleton & CANARAIL announce extension of Scope of Work for the Afghanistan Railway Feasibility Study for Northern Afghanistan, Appleton Consulting Inc, 5 November 2014
  26. Three presidents launch construction of international rail link, Railway Gazette International, 6 June 2013.