Uzbek and Afghan presidents discuss Mazar-i-Sharif to Herat railway

Afghanistan’s President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani paid an official visit to Uzbekistan on 4-6 December 2017, at the invitation of President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev.

In a joint statement:

11. The Presidents noted the priority importance of bilateral cooperation in the field of transport and transit corridors, which provide the shortest and most effective access to foreign markets.

In this regard, the Parties agreed to further intensify mutual efforts aimed at ensuring the construction of railways and highways, as well as facilitating the development of transit traffic and trade on the territory of Afghanistan. In particular, based on the efficient bilateral cooperation and the experience of mutual benefit, the Parties agreed to jointly implement the following projects aimed at further development of transport infrastructure in Afghanistan:

  • Construction of the “Mazar-e-Sharif–Herat” railway line, planned within the framework of the “Trans-Afghan Transport Corridor”;
  • […]

The Presidents welcomed the signing of cooperation agreements on the “Termez-Hairatan” bridge between the relevant organizations of the two countries.

Source: Joint statement, Office of the President, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, 5 December 2017

Remarking on the importance of transit facilitation between the two countries, President Ghani said that the agreement on implementation of Mazar e Sharif – Herat Railways will contribute to regional connectivity and allow smooth flow of exports. He said, “This is one of the major regional transit projects and both countries are earnestly working on the implementation and funding.”

Source: President Ghani: A New Chapter Of Afghan-Uzbek Relations Has Been Opened Out, Office of the President, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, 5 December 2017

We have to make every human effort to see Surkhandara connected to Puli-Khomri through the transmission line. And we have to devote the next month to see how we are going to move to implementation and financing the railway from Mazar-i-Sharif to Herat.

Let me assure the people of Uzbekistan and the government of Uzbekistan that the people and government of Afghanistan have every intention to transform Uzbekistan into one of our major trading and transit partners.

Source: President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani’s Remarks During Joint Press Conference With President Of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev, Office of the President, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, 5 December 2017

20 documents aimed at further strengthening of cooperation in political, trade-economic, investment, transport-communication, scientific, education and other spheres were also signed. They include documents on establishment of a joint commission on the issues of security, provision of legal assistance in civil, family and criminal cases, construction of Surkhan – Puli Khumri power line, the Mazari Sharif – Sheberghan – Maymana – Herat railway, the interaction in the sphere of freight and customs.

Source: Documents have been signed, Press Service of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, % December 2017

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.


Photos of development in Afghanistan

The Asian Development Bank website has published some photos by Kabul-born documentary photographer Jawad Jalali, who “traveled across Afghanistan to capture the country’s development through his lenses”. He said “the most amazing thing for me is the railway, for the first time I was experiencing a train in our own soil and country.”

According to ADB, “an expanded railway system covering 4,425 kilometers is expected to be developed in the future and is expected to connect the majority of the country’s population centers”.

Impact of land mines on the Mazar-i-Sharif railway project

The report The Humanitarian and Developmental Impact of Anti-Vehicle Mines (PDF) discusses the problems land mines caused for the Hairatan – Mazar-i-Sharif railway construction project:

Late into the execution of the project, [anti-vehicle mines, anti-personnel mines and explosive remnants of war] were discovered. The initial assessment revealed a 3 sq km area of contamination at an estimated cost of USD 3 million to clear, which came close to matching Afghanistan’s national contribution to the project.

This pattern has been repeated in other infrastructure development projects, particularly with AVMs due their low detectability in Afghanistan. MACCA contacted development projects throughout the country in 2013 and found that a number were in hazardous areas. Out of 430 registered development projects in Afghanistan (roads, bridges, dams, rail, agriculture, electricity expansion), 71 of these projects are affected by mines and ERW, and at least 21 are heavily affected by AT mines, consisting of roughly 225 square kilometres of land.

As a result, MACCA actively encourages a sustainable and continuous process in communication with the development sector; otherwise, as in the case of the railway project, the country suffers huge financial losses that it cannot afford.

Source: The Humanitarian and Developmental Impact of Anti-Vehicle Mines, Geneva International Centre For Humanitarian Demining and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, September 2014, pages 63-64)

On pages 64-65 the report discusses the impact of mines (of the explosive variety) on the Aynak copper mining project.

Photo of the Mazar-i-Sharif rail freight terminal

42533-022: Hairatan to Mazar-e-Sharif Railway Project in Afghanistan

The Asian Development Bank has published this rather fine photo, captioned:

Railway terminal in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan, January 5, 2014. The railway has provided easy transportation for oil, wood, flour, wheat, asphalt and other important products

There is what looks like a TEM2 diesel locomotive in the background.

Despite the date in the caption, the metadata says the picture was taken on 19 December 2013, by Jawad Jalali (presumably this Afghan photographer).

Uzbek Railways awarded new Afghan operations and maintenance contract

Last year the Afghanistan Railway Authority invited expressions of interest in contracts to operate and maintain the 75 km railway from Hairatan to Mazar-i-Sharif.

On 15 March 20151 Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Works awarded Uzbek national railway UTY a new contract to operate and maintain the line.2

This contract replaces the original 2011 operating contract, which was worth worth $32m/year. On 8 February 2011 UTY established its Sogdiana Trans subsidiary to undertake operations and maintenance in Afghanistan.3

The latest contract runs for three years and will see UTY paid $19m/year to manage the line. UTY will pay taxes, and is to provide training for 50 Afghans each year. Until now the railway has only been used for imports, but the new contract should see the line used to carry a total of at least four million tonnes of Afghan goods for export.

Hairatan to Mazar-i-Sharif railway management contracts planned

Afghanistan Reconstruction & Development Services has published the Afghanistan Railway Authority’s invitation for expressions of interest in three contracts covering the operation, maintenance and management of the Hairatan to Mazar-i-Sharif railway.

Responses from “experienced, high caliber and competent national and international rail operating, maintenance and management companies” should be submitted to the Ministry of Public Works by 5:00 pm local time on 15 November 2014.

Soliciting expressions of interest is the first step of a possible bidding process. Evaluation would be conducted internally within AfRA/MPW according to Afghan procurement law and procedures. Companies which are shortlisted would be invited to submit their proposals.

The invitation document says the Hairatan to Mazar-i-Sharif railway comprises 75 km of main line and 63 km of loop line, a total of 138 km, which “went into operation in December 2011 and has been successfully operated, maintained and managed.”

The performance-based operation and maintenance services would include but not be limited to:

  • Quantification of assets and characteristics of the railway system
  • Required Operations services
  • Required Infrastructure Maintenance services
  • Required Management services
  • Technical specifications and standards
  • Necessary equipment for proactive for operations and maintenance
  • Performance standards, including benchmarks of operational, rolling stock, and infrastructure asset maintenance; targets of goods to be transported per year; maintenance of infrastructure; correction of defective maintenance; type and availability of trains; procedures for delays, accidents, and incidents; and locomotive and wagon maintenance.
  • Outline of the revenue account for revenue deposits, maintained by the operator and transferred at fixed intervals to the owner
  • Quality management to meet best industry standards of O&M
  • Performance securities and insurance
  • Format of a summary of usage report to record operator activities performed
  • Establishment of an operating account, outlining costs and revenues
  • Environmental management plan
  • Description of force majeure events, conditions, or circumstances
  • Training for staff on O&M
  • Dispute resolution mechanism

Interested companies should demonstrate:

  1. 10 Years Similar experience in Rail operations, Management and Maintenance of 1520 mm and/or 1435 mm gauges railway lines.
  2. Reasonable and adequate financial resources
  3. Regional experience and joint-venture with national firms is plus
  4. Human resource capacity to operate, manage and carry out infrastructure maintenance
  5. Adequate machinery, rolling-stock, tools and equipment
  6. Good performance record
  7. Companies are advised to provide only materials that are specific to the proposed service as to avoid submitting generic promotional material.

The call for expression of interest also gives AfRA’s description of itself:

Afghanistan Railway Authority (AfRA) is the governing body for all railway planning, development, network, operations and maintenance in Afghanistan.

Based on our vision of long-term rail development, we will ensure all rail stakeholders are, committed to the safety of employees, customers and the public. We feel that a progressive railway network can be operated with integrity, having concern and consideration for our neighbors, the local community, and the environment.

We stand committed to the safe and efficient movement of resources, goods, humans, animals and information material to, from, and through Afghanistan by developing an integrated National Railway Plan, sustainable policies, safety and operational regulations as well as becoming a contributing member of regional and international partnerships.

The AfRA is responsible for legal and regulatory policies governing rail investment, development, and operations. This includes the regulatory oversight needed for a safe, efficient, and reliable rail network. The AfRA is also the sole governing body in charge of planning, survey, design, construction and operations of the entire railway lines in Afghanistan. AfRA will ensure railway companies and stakeholders are engaged corporate citizens, committed to the safety of employees, customers and the public.