Turkmenistan to Imanazar, Aqina and Andkhoy

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The railway from Atamyrat in Turkmenistan to the Ymamnazar border crossing point (85 km) and Afghanistan’s customs facilities at Aqina (3 km) was officially opened on 28 November 2016 by Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov and Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani.1

Turkmenistan to Aqina railway
(Photo: Afghanistan Railway Authority)

An extension is under construction across the frontier to Andkhoy in northern Afghanistan. This line provides a second rail link between Turkmenistan and Afghanistan, in addition to the line to Torghundi further west.

The new line is intended to form the first phase of a planned Turkmenistan – Afghanistan – Tajikistan route, known from its initials as the TAT Railway.


(Photo: Afghanistan Railway Authority)

Route

The new line branches from Turkmenistan’s existing rail network at Atamyrat2 on the left bank of the River Amu Darya in the Lebap region in the east of the county. The alignment runs 85 km southwest, passing west of the Zeid Reservoir to reach Imamnazar,3 the site of Turkmenistan’s border facilities. There will be two bridges over the River Garagum, and stations (presuambly freight only) at Gulistan and Imamnazar.4

The border crossing at Immanazar has facilities which were built with assistance from the USA and United Nations and formally opened on 13 August 2007.5

The next stage of the railway runs 3 km from Imamnazar in Turkmenistan across the border to Aqina,6 where Afghanistan’s border facilities are located.7

A planned continuation would extend the line 35 km onwards to Andkhoy,8 the first major town in Afghanistan.

Section Length, km Status
Atamyrat – Imamnazar 85 Opened November 2016
Imamnazar – (Turkmen/Afghan border) – Aqina (Akina, آقینه) 3 (approx. 2 km in Afghanistan?) Opened November 2016
Aqina – Andkhoy 35 Planned

Traffic

Traffic on the railway is expected to include petrol and diesel fuel being transported from Turkmenistan’s Seydi oil refinery to Immanazar. Bitumen will be exported to Afghanistan, along with cement from a plant at Garlyk.9.

Planning

Launch of construction of the Turkmenistan to Afghanistan railway, 5 June 2013 (Photo: ARG Facebook page)

The Atamyrat – Afghanistan railway was developed on the initiative of Turkmeninstan,10 whose President Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov “with the inherent-to-him foresight had voiced proposal to realize the project of building a railway from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan”.11

The project was discussed in July 2008, and again by officials from the Afghan and Turkmen governments in August 2010.12

Afghanistan lacks indigenous capabilities for railway construction, and Turkmenistan agreed to take responsibility for surveying, designing and constructing the 36 km of the route within Afghanistan, as donation to the country.13 .

A framework agreement for construction of the the Atamyrat – Imamnazar – Aqina – Andkhoy line was signed in Ashgabat during an official visit by Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai to Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhammadov on 28-29 May 2011. This was included in a Friendship & Cooperation Agreement between Turkmenistan and Afghanistan which was unanimously ratified by the Turkmen Parliament.10

Design work for the initial 85 km from Atamyrat to Imamnazar was completed by 2012. Work would start “soon”, the Afghan President’s office reported following a meeting between Presidents Karzai and Berdimuhamedov in Türkmenbasy on 25 January 2012. President Karzai was accompanied by the Afghan Minister of Mines, who said the design work and full studies for the Aqina – Andkhoy section had been finalized.15

Following a March 2013 meeting between the two presidents, Afghanistan formally invited the Turkmen authorities to undertake studies for the 38 km from Imamnazar across the border to Aqina and Andkhoy.

A memorandum of understanding between Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan was signed at a trilateral meeting of the three presidents in Ashgabat on 20 March 2013.16. This memorandum said the three countries would, within one month from the date of signing, hold meetings of experts from the ministries and agencies of the three countries who would undertake detailed studies for the propsed TAT Railway, as well as establish the organisational, legal and financial basis for practical implementation of the project. Construction was to begin in early July 2013.

Following the signing of the memorandum, the three presidents attended a joint press conference where they described the project as important for enhanced trade and economic development of countries in the region. Afghanistan’s President Karzai said the line railway would play an important role in strengthening the regional economies.17

In early May 2013 the Foreign Ministry of Turkmenistan hosted governmental delegations of three countries at the first meeting of the joint co-ordinating workgroup for constructon of the TAT railway.11. The Turkmen representitives said that practically all the design work for the Atamyrat – Imamnazar section had been completed. The Afghan delegation proposed that Turkmen specialists should participate in the feasibility study and construction of the Imamnazar – Aqina section within Afghanistan.

Construction

Launch of construction of the Turkmenistan to Afghanistan railway, 5 June 2013 (Photo: ARG Facebook page)

The project was undertaken by the Ministry of Railway Transport of Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan has signficant income from its natural gas resources, and funded the section of the line in its own territory as well as the future extension to Andkhoy.

Afghanistan's

Construction of the line was officially launched by Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai and Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon with an elaborate ceremony in Atamyrat on 5 June 2013.19

Launch of construction of the Turkmenistan to Afghanistan railway, 5 June 2013 (Photo: ARG Facebook page)

The presidents flew by helicopter from Turkmenabat airport to Atamyrat station. The three leaders signed a message for the future which was sealed in a time capsule, and then shovelled the symbolic first concrete20 and watched some rails being laid.21

Afghanistan's

The construction process has been described by Turkmenistan’s Golden Age news agency.4 The main civil works are being undertaken by personnel from construction train No.2 from Amyderya. The formation is raised by several metres above ground level to protect the line from flooding. Komatsu excavators are being used to obtain material from nearby quarries, with delivery to the construction site by “two tens of powerful Russian dump trucks KrAZ” (KrAZ is actually based in Ukraine). Levelling is undertaken using Caterpillar vehicles. Staff from Mary are laying the rails, using a special track-laying train with a crane at the front and diesel locomotives propelling from behind. Woody shrubs are being planted inside fences to protect the line from drifting sand.

Looking at weather-beaten and sunburnt faces of tracklayers, one can be convinced that they are hard pressed on the line. They always work under open air. In winter, the frost pesters in the desert, and in summer, it is difficult because of heat of dunes. In any time of the year, “the Afghan” – strong southern wind is blowing. It raises dense sandy veil, and then, it is impossible to see even in several tens of meters.
Source: Turkmenistan: the Golden Age.

Construction of Turkmenistan to Afghanistran railway
(Photo: Afghanistan Railway Authority)

In January 2014 it was reported that additional resources had been provided for the project,23 and the planned completion date had been brought forward from the end of 2016 to June 2015.

It was subsequently reported that 45 km of the line had been laid as of 30 June 2015.24 In November 2015 it was reported that construction of the 85 km Atamurat – Imamnazar section was complete, except for two bridges and two stations. The final 3 km from Imamnazar in Turkmenistan across the border to Aqina was also still to be completed.25

Opening

The railway to Aqina was officially opened on 28 November 2016 by Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov and Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani.1

The first freight train comprised 46 wagons carrying flour, grain, cement, carbamide, urea and sulphur.27 28

Gauge

The Atamyrat – Imamnazar – Andkhoy railway is 1520 mm broad gauge. Known as “Russian gauge” and previously defined as 1524 mm (5 foot), this gauge is used in Turkmenistan and across the entire former USSR, as well as in Mongolia, Finland and on the Uzbekistan to Mazar-i-Sharif line.

The railway being built from Iran to Herat is 1435mm (4 feet 8.5 inch) standard gauge, which is used in Iran, the Middle East, most of Europe (except the 1520 areas, Spain, Portugal and Ireland) and in China. These 1520 and 1435 mm gauges are not compatible, and are too similar for three-rail mixed-gauge track to be feasible. However this incompatibility is unlikely to be a practical problem until such as time as the Turkmen-built and Iranian-built lines ever meet somewhere in Afghanistan. Rail traffic between Turkmenistan and Iran does not need to pass through Afghanistan, as it can already use an existing line with a break of gauge at the border.29

Photos

Pictures of this railway seem hard to find – it is pretty much in the back-of-beyond, and Turkmenistan is not the most accessible or publicity-seeking place. Many news reports seem to be illustrated with generic photos of railways, but there are some pictures of construction of the line in Strengthening transport potential of the region, a 16 May 2015 article from Turkmenistan: the Golden Age.

Next page: TAT Railway

References

  1. President of Turkmenistan and Afghanistan address participants of new railway opening ceremony, State News Agency of Turkmenistan, 28 November 2016
  2. Also written Atamurat, and formerly known as Kerki
  3. Also written Ymamnazar etc
  4. Strengthening transport potential of the region, Turkmenistan: the Golden Age, 16 May 2015
  5. Imamnazar new post control was opened at the Turkmen-Afghan border, State News Agency of Turkmenistan (TDH), August 2007
  6. Also written Akina, Acqina, Aqya, Aqgin etc
  7. Aqina port Ministry of Commerce & Industries, Afghanistan. (Although the Afghan authorities refer to the facility as port, it is very much inland with no water transport)
  8. Also written Andkhoi, Andkhvoy, Andkhui etc
  9. Strengthening transport potential of the region, Turkmenistan: the Golden Age, 16 May 2015
  10. Turkmenistan ratifies Friendship and Cooperation Agreement with Afghanistan, Trend News agency, Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, 2011-08-05
  11. First Meeting Of The Workgroup On The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan Railway Project, Türkmen döwlet habarlar agentligi, 13 May 2013
  12. The Agreement of Support for Implementation of TAPI Project was Signed, Ministry of Mines, Afghanistan, 30 August 2010
  13. Afghanistan to Build 36km Railway in the North, Tamim Shaheer, TOLOnews, 17 October 2010
  14. Turkmenistan ratifies Friendship and Cooperation Agreement with Afghanistan, Trend News agency, Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, 2011-08-05
  15. Afghan and Turkmen Presidents Vow to Implement Critical Projects, Office of the President, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, 26 January 2012
  16. First Meeting Of The Workgroup On The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan Railway Project, Türkmen döwlet habarlar agentligi, 13 May 2013
  17. MoU of Railway Construction Signed between Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, Office of the President, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, 20 March 2013
  18. First Meeting Of The Workgroup On The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan Railway Project, Türkmen döwlet habarlar agentligi, 13 May 2013
  19. Three presidents launch construction of international rail link, Railway Gazette International, 6 June 2013.
  20. Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan railway to be built, State News Agency of Turkmenistan (TDH), Turkmenistan: the Golden Age, 5 June 2013
  21. Construction of Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan railway launched, Turkmenistan.ru, 6 June 2013
  22. Strengthening transport potential of the region, Turkmenistan: the Golden Age, 16 May 2015
  23. Turkmenistan to complete construction of railway to Afghanistan in 2015, The Times Of Central Asia citing Altyn Asir (Golden Age) TV, 10 January 2014
  24. Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan railway under construction, Turkmenistan: the Golden Age, 30 June 2015
  25. Turkmenistan builds railway to Afghan borders, Huseyn Hasanov, Trend News Agency, 17 November 2015; citing a message from the Turkmen government (I can’t find this message – does anyone know if it is available online?)
  26. President of Turkmenistan and Afghanistan address participants of new railway opening ceremony, State News Agency of Turkmenistan, 28 November 2016
  27. «Golden juncture» of the first link of the Asian transnational transport corridor is fastened, State News Agency of Turkmenistan, 28 November 2016
  28. Food products and construction materials were transported by a train along Atamurat-Ymamnazar (Turkmenistan)-Akina (Afghanistan) – the first link of the Asian transnational transport corridor, State News Agency of Turkmenistan, 28 November 2016
  29. Iran – Turkmenistan – Kazakhstan rail link inaugurated, Railway Gazette International, 4 December 2014