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

Afghanistan buys two locomotives

Afghanistan has bought two locomotives of its own, according to a recent report about the Hairatan – Mazar-i-Sharif railway. This is significant because these are probably Afghanistan’s very first mainline locomotives.

Afghanistan is expected to eventually take control of the railroad. It has already assumed responsibility for some tasks and purchased its first two locomotives.
Source: U.S. works to get Afghans on track with rail network, Drew Brooks, Fayetteville Observer, 2 May 2014.

Until now, rail operations in Afghanistan have (as far as I know) always been handled by Soviet and subsequently Uzbek/Turkmen railways locomotives from across the border.

But what are the two Afghan locos?

A recent BBC Pashto video about Hairatan showed a couple of diesel locomotives of a type I’ve not previously spotted in images of Afghanistan (at about 1:10 in the video):

Screenshot of BBC Pashto video showing railway locomotives at Hairtatan in Afghanistan

These are diesel locos ТГМ4Б-0180 (TGM4B) on the left and what looks to be a ТГМ4А (TGM4A) on the right. There are details of the TGM4 family (in Russian) at tgm4.ru

Russian enthusiast website Trainpix lists ТГМ4Б-0180 as having been built by the Lyudinovskiy Locomotive Works (now part of the Sinara Group) in 1990. As of 2013, it was owned by locomotive repair company Remzheldorteh at Yaroslavl in Russia, where it was for sale.

So I wonder if the video shows one (or both) of the two locos which Afghanistan has bought? It would make sense for the Afghan locos to be shunters, as all long-distance rail traffic on the Hairatan line has to go to or from Uzbekistan anyway, so may as well use Uzbek locos.

Unfortunately the number of the second loco in the video is not legible, and I don’t know what the presenter says about them, as I don’t speak the language.

If anyone has any more information about these two locomotives, I’d be very keen to hear from you!

Tracks, drugs and rolling stock

An article at The Bug Pit, UN: NDN An Express Train For Afghan Drug Traffickers, draws attention to an October 2012 report from the UN Office on Drugs & Crime, Misuse of Licit Trade for Opiate Trafficking in Western and Central Asia: A Threat Assessment. This report contains information about rail transport in Central Asia, as well as lots of details of the movements of undesirable substances.

As Bug Pit author Joshua Kucera points out, “it stands to reason that making transportation easier would make illicit trafficking easier – especially in countries where border officials are notoriously corrupt.”

The UN report says:

Uzbek officials stationed at the [Hairatan] border are generally well trained and receive relatively high salaries. The risk of concealed drugs crossing the border undetected is therefore lower at the Hairatan BCP than it is in Naibabad.
(p65)

This issue has been raised at a couple of railway conferences I’ve been to in Turkey and the UAE, where it was suggested that providing decent jobs – particularly wages – for border officials in places like Central Asia can easily pay for itself in smoother regional trade, and also help to ensure that legitimate fees are charged and go where they should be going, rather than unofficial fees which disappear into black holes.

It was even suggested that dealing with these matters might offer better benefits for the cost than funding fancy new transport infrastructure.

The report also offers some information about trains:

The Hairatan [Border Control Point] primarily receives cargo arriving on the Termez-Hairatan railway from Uzbekistan. On average, 100-120 containers are sent to and from Hairatan BCP each day.26 Interview with Customs Officials at Dry Ports in Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif, March 2012. At the Hairatan BCP and Naibabad dry port, cargo is trans-shipped from trains onto trucks, which then travel along the assigned transit routes to Pakistan.
(p32)

and about boats:

The large river port at Termez ships approximately 1,000 tons of cargo daily to a location only 500 metres away from the Hairatan BCP in Afghanistan.

The road and railway link from Termez to Hairatan runs along the northern trade route and is part of
the Northern Distribution Network.137 The railway line was only completed in 2010. The railway line has the capacity to transport 4,000 tons of cargo per month and can cater for eight trains travelling in each direction per day. On average, 100-120 containers travel the route every day.138 US Department of State, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/5380.htm Although the road leading from Hairatan to Mazar-e-Sharif has recently been improved, it is not capable of handling high levels of traffic. Therefore, cargo continues to be delivered to and from Afghanistan primarily along the railway route.
(p64)

The railway dates from 1982, and “4,000 tons of cargo per month” sounds rather low; perhaps that should be per day, meaning 500 tons on each of those eight trains – or 250 tonnes if both directions are included?

In 2007, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan signed a transport and transit agreement. […] Both countries also agreed to extend the Turkmen railroad network from Serkhetabad to Torghundi in the Afghan Herat province and to construct a trans-Afghan gas pipeline.
(p76)

The line is originally older than 2007, which was when Turkmenistan funded rebuilding and reopening it.

There are two main trade and transit trade routes leading from Afghanistan to Turkmenistan. The first is a direct road and railroad link from Torghundi in Afghanistan to Serkhetabad in Turkmenistan. On average, the rail services at Torghundi transport around 50 wagons per day, while Torghundi dry port trans-ships containers delivered by approximately 300-350 trucks per day. From Torghundi dry port, Afghan goods can be delivered via Turkmenistan to the Russian Federation or the Islamic Republic of Iran. From the Islamic Republic of Iran, they are shipped to countries in the Persian Gulf, or through Turkey to European markets.
(p77)

The report continues:

The second transit route is a railroad that runs from Afghanistan via Turkmenistan to the Islamic Republic of Iran. It begins at Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan and terminates at the Iranian Bandar Abbas seaport:

  • Mazar-e-Sharif (Afghanistan) – Andkhoy – Chardzhou (Turkmenistan) – Serahs (Turkmenistan) – Mashhad (Islamic Republic of Iran) – Kerman – Bandar Abbas

(p77)

A Mazar-i-Sharif – Andkhoy – Turkmenstan railway is still only at the planning stage.

On a daily basis, approximately 50 vehicles cross the Imamnazar border in each direction180 Asian Development Bank, 2010, while a further 20-30 trucks cross at Serkhetabad.
(p78)

“A logistical game changer”

A logistical game changer

101st Sustainment Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (AA) Public Affairs

Story by Sgt. 1st Class Peter Mayes

BALKH PROVINCE, Afghanistan – An ambitious railroad project could see an increase in cargo supply movements and potentially create strong economic development and stability for the northern Afghanistan community.

The 101st Sustainment Brigade Commander Col. Michael Peterman and members of his staff spent several days visiting with key government officials in the Hairaton district to discuss plans to re-establish a distribution network in the north from Europe.

Most of the ground freight in that region comes through Pakistan.

“To say that it’s problematic is an understatement,” Peterman said. “For all the interruptions, attacks, theft, corruption …it has a negative effect on combat power. It can be a game-changer logistically if we get it right.”

The Hairaton Gate crossing is the only border crossing point with a rail line, according to Peterman. The Lifeliner’s role in the project would be to tie the infrastructure in northern Afghanistan to that network, he said.

The brigade sent a team to Hairaton Gate to help build container yards for the project. Peterman referred to Gen. David Petraeus’ initiative on helping get the Northern Distribution Network – a network of trains, ports and airplanes coming directly from Central Europe into Afghanistan- run efficiently.

It would also mean the brigade would coach, mentor and teach Afghan commerce, business and military leaders on how to conduct cross-border logistics in Hairaton, he said.

“The truth is, that freight is going to come. We have to figure out how to educate the Afghans to make sure it moves efficiently down to rest of the battle space. We’ll be critical to have in terms of coaching and monitoring, along with our Afghan partners,” Peterman said.

The commander said while the focus in Regional Command East has been counterinsurgency and security (with the intent to gain a space for economics to grow), the northern region has a strong governor and security.

“We have an opportunity, with that rail line and commercial trucking, to move that portion of the country forward economically and also reinforce governance for tens of millions of dollars that’s going to come across that port in the next year that’s going to go directly to Afghan taxpayers,” he said.

Peterman said he has spent time with the Hairaton District Gov. Atta and other key officials trying to understand, “Afghanistan’s human terrain.”

“We had a great dialogue with Gov. Atta, as well as daily meetings with the port authority … to let him know what this means to him economically. He’s a very smart man, and he understands developmentally what this means to his country,” he said.

Peterman said conversations with the district sub-governor raised concerns about the negative impact the projects would have on the community, such as children being struck by trucks

“Those concerns are no different than a small town in America that’s right next to a rail hub, if you can picture it,” he said. “If we put Afghans to work, it will have less negative effects on his community,” he said.

Peterman said engagements by USAID, the European Union and others are also coming into play regarding Afghanistan’s economic future.

He also said the project fits in with President Obama’s intent of having combat troops leave Afghanistan by 2014.

“The trains are going to have to get that combat power out some way,” he said.
Source: DVIDS, 2011-01-11

Increase in Uzbek rail tariffs

FMN Logistics Responds to Increased Uzbek Rail Tariffs

Rising tariffs will affect wide range of NDN operations

(Tashkent, Uzbekistan, February 3, 2011) – FMN Logistics, Inc., a provider of freight forwarding and logistics services, today responds to the recent significant tariff increase imposed on Northern Distribution Network (NDN) rail cargo by Uzbekistan Temir Yullari (UTI), the national railroad of Uzbekistan. UTI levied a tariff increase effective on February 1st on consigned shipments for United States and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) non-lethal rail cargo into and out of Afghanistan.

“FMN Logistics is following these developments very closely,” said Harry Eustace, Jr. CEO of FMN Logistics. “We are communicating with our customers and all of our partners in Central Asia to ensure that everyone fully understands how this tariff hike will impact shipping operations into and out of Afghanistan. Our goal is to assure that there is no disruption to important deliveries of food and other non-lethal cargo movements.”

About FMN Logistics

FMN Logistics is a specialist freight forwarding and logistics service provider with headquarters in Washington, DC and operations throughout Central Asia and the Middle East. In 2010, FMN delivered over 2,500 cargo containers to Afghanistan for US and ISAF forces. FMN is the largest volume logistics service provider in Central Asia for Operation Enduring Freedom.
Source: Fifth Millennium Networks, Inc, 2011-02-03