First Afghanistan to China rail freight service

An inaugural service carrying freight for export to China by rail left Hairatan on 5 September 2019.1 It was carrying 1 100 tonnes of talc in 41 containers, which were expected to arrive in China’s Jiangxi province in around 14 days, travelling 6 700 km via Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

The locomotive from Uzbekistan’s national railway UTY and the containers were decorated with banners showing the flags of the four countries, and a portrait of King Amanullah.

Guests at the despatch of the first export train included Minister of Transport Yama Yari, various national and local government officials and representatives of the embassies of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and China.

The first rail freight service from China to Afghanistan ran in September 2016, but the start of services in the opposite direction was delayed by bureaucratic issues.

  1. Afghanistan – China rail freight service sets off, Railway Gazette International, 9 September 2019.

Afghanistan to China rail freight discussions

President Ashraf Ghani’s advisor on Central Asian Affairs said after a meeting with Uzbekistan officials that Afghan traders will soon be able to export goods to China via rail once existing problems have been ironed out.
[…]
“(In 2016) the railway line was opened at the Afghanistan border (with Uzbekistan) from China as a pilot project. This will no longer be a pilot project. It will be a transit route. The railway trucks that used to return empty to China, will soon carry goods (from Afghanistan). But we need to solve problems inside our country and the commerce and industries ministry should solve the problems,” said Kargar.
[…]
“This is a big achievement. It takes us one and half months to transport goods from China, but (once the railway line opens) goods will arrive at our border in only 10 days,” said the head of Afghanistan’s Railway Authority, Abdul Bari Sediqi
[…]
Source: Officials Tackle Afghanistan-China Railway Line Issues, By Zabihullah Jahanmal, Tolo News, 24 June 2018

Afghanistan and China sign railway feasibility study memorandum

Afghan Ambassador to China Janan Mosazai and a Chinese construction company signed a memorandum of understanding on 8 June 2017 for a Chinese-funded feasibility study to be conducted within the next 12 months for a railway line which would run from Sher Khan Bandar on the border with Tajikistan to Herat.1

Oddly, various news reports talk about “reconstruction”2 or “reviving” a railway, although there has not been a line from Sher Khan Bandar to Herat.

I can’t find details of which company is involved. Anyone know?

The President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Mohammad Ashraf Ghani met with the president of the people’s Republic of China Xi Jinping, at the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Thursday morning, Astana.
[…]
[The Chinese president] referred to the commercial cooperation between the two countries in the framework of one-belt-one-road design and said that China is keen to foster commercial ties with Afghanistan especially on construction of railways, dams, roads and housing, implementation of electricity projects and exporting Afghan products to Chinese markets.
[…]
President Ghani described construction of railways as a central element for encouraging regional connectivity, transit and commercial ties. Such connectivity initiatives will connect Iran with China and central Asia with eastern Asia through the Chinese economic corridor.

The President also stressed that it is time China and Afghanistan and other regional countries should take constructive measures for regional connectivity.
[…]
Following the meeting of the two leaders, two memorandums of understanding were signed by Afghan ambassador for China and chairman of Chinese company on construction of Sher Khan port-Herat railways and implementation of an electricity project in Kunar.

As mentioned in the MoUs, the Chinese company will conduct a feasibility study in twelve months on construction of Sher Khan port-Herat railways.

Source: President Ghani Meets With President Of People’s Republic Of China, Office of the President, 9 June 2017

References

Freight train from China arrives in Afghanistan

The first rail freight service from China arrived at Hairatan in Afghanistan on 7 September 2016, having left Nantong in eastern China’s Jiangsu province on 25 August 2016.

Guests at a welcoming ceremony includied the former governor of Balkh province, Mohammad Ishaq Rahguzar, and China’s ambassador.

The same rolling stock did not run through all the way, because China uses 1435 mm standard gauge railway track while the former USSR and Afghaistan use 1520 mm (“Russian”) gauge. The containers were presumably transhipped at the break of gauge at the China-Kazakhstan border.

The train was hauled in Afghanistan by a TEM2 diesel locomotive decorated with banners and the flags of China and Afghanistan.

Geopolitical significance:

There are still some technical issues:

Another China to Afghanistan freight train

You wait for ages, then two China to Afghanistan freight services start at once.

This second service set off from Yiwu in eastern China’s Zhejiang Province on August 28, carrying 100 containers of goods worth more than US$4m. The 7500 km journey to Mazar-i-Sharif via Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan was expected to take 15 days. A weekly service is planned by the end of the year.1

The contaners are carried on flat wagons, rather than open wagons as with the train from Nantong.

References

First China to Afghanistan freight train departs

What is described as the first train from China to Afghanistan1 left Nantong in eastern China’s Jiangsu province on 25 August 2016, carrying 84 containers.2

It is scheduled to take 15 days to complete the journey, running via the Alataw Pass, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to Hairatan in northern Afghanistan.3

Two trains are scheduled to run each month, as part of China’s “Belt and Road” initiative to improve Asian transport connectivity.

The inaugural train was photographed being hauled by Class ND5 (General Electric Type C36-7) diesel-electric locomotive number 0157, which was decorated with a red pompom kind of thing on its nose and with a sign on the front saying in English:

Central Asia Trains
Nantong—Afghan – Hairatan

plus some Chinese writing, which I’m reliably informed says the same thing.

There was also a banner on the side of the locomotive saying “Congratulations on the Central Asial trains (Nantong – Afghanistan – Hairaton) launching“,4 and there were banners on some of the wagons.5

Interestingly, the containers are being carried in open wagons, rather than on flat wagons. The wagons themselves will presumably not be making the full journey, instead the containers will be shipped from China’s 1435 mm standard gauge wagons to the fomer USSR’s 1520 mm gauge at the Kazakh border.

References

  1. I have no particular reason to doubt this claim
  2. Cargo train services launched between Nantong and Afghanistan, Xinhua, 25 August 2016
  3. Cargo train leaves Nantong on first journey to Afghanistan, CCTV.com, 25 August 2016
  4. For what it’s worth, the spelling of Hairatan/Hairaton was not consistent between the front and side banners
  5. Central Asia freight train service starts, Xinhua, 25 August 2016

One Belt and One Road seminar

Ministry of Foreign Affairs Holds Seminar under the Theme of “One Belt and One Road”

Kabul – The Center for Strategic Studies of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan held a one-day joint seminar with the cooperation of the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China under the theme of “One Belt and One Road” chaired by the Deputy Foreign Minister Mr. Hekmat Khalil Karzai with the participation of the Chinese Ambassador to Kabul and members of the Chinese Embassy, National Assembly members, researchers, Analysts, Faculty members, and Senior Official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kabul.

Mr. Karzai stated in part of his speech: “The great Silk Road is a trade and cultural exchange route, connecting Asian, European, and African civilizations and an establishment and starting point for connection between East and West, which provides a great opportunity for exchanging science and knowledge, economy and trade, and accumulated thoughts in various parts of the world, and the value of this route’s economic, trade, cultural and political value for humanitarian development in this region has increased and become more significant in the 21st century.

Later on, the Chinese Ambassador, Mr. Yao Jing delivered his remarks on South Asia and Central Asia connectivity, economic significance of the Silk Road and Lapis Lazuli route in strengthening economy and ensuring regional peace and stability, regional economic and trade cooperation among Southern, Eastern, and Central Asian countries, raw material transfer, mining and untapped resources extraction in regional countries, and connecting countries through construction of roads and large highways.

Later on, University professor and head of ATRA, Mr. Najib Azizi, head of Center for Crisis and Peace Studies, Mr. Halimullah Kawsari, Director of Regional Cooperation of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Whadidullah Waisi, former Minister of Information and Culture and Afghan-China Friendship Association head, Dr. Sayed Makhdum Rahin, and Parliament Member, Mrs. Nahid Farid delivered their remarks in this seminar respectively.

Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs press release, Afghanistan, 8 May 2016

Five countries sign China to Iran railway agreement

A preliminary agreement for developing the proposed China – Kyrgyzstan – Tajikistan – Afghanistan – Iran railway was signed in the Tajik capital Dushanbe on 8-9 December 2014.1

The meeting was chaired by Tajikistan’s First Deputy Minister of Transport, Sherali Gançalzoda, and included representatives of the transport ministries and authorities of the five countries. The attendees were updated on the current state of the railways, development plans, and the steps needed to connect the rail networks.

The Ministry of Transport statement doesn’t give much background (and is Tajik), but media reports say the route of the proposed line was agreed. Some reports seem to have got the list of places to be served a bit backwards, but they suggest the line would run from Kashgar in China to Herat in Afghanistan, then run on to Iran – presumably using the Khaf to Herat line which is currently under construction.2

Asia Plus reports that Iranian company Metra has previously carried out a feasibility study for construction of the 392 km Tajik section of the proposed railway, using US$1m of aid.3 4

There is no mention of gauge in any of the reports. The former Soviet countries and the small amount of railway in Afghanistan use 1520 mm broad gauge, but Iran and China both use standard gauge, and China seems to like building railways to standard gauge even in metre/1067 mm gauge regions of Africa. There is also no mention of a commitment to funding.

Update: Wahid Waissi, Director-General of Economic Cooperation at Afghanistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, confirms “it would be 1435 but two months time given for Kyrgyz to decide.”5

Last month the presidents of Tajikistan and China met and discussed “the prospects of construction of railway China-Tajikistan-Afghanistan-Iran-Persian Gulf”,6 and the Ministry of Finance of Tajikistan and Export-Import Bank of China signed an agreement on preferential credit for construction of the 40.7 km Vahdat – Yovon section of the Dushanbe – Qurghonteppa line by 2016. 7