Turkmenistan – Afghanistan – Tajikistan line needs money and security

Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan Railway project to be completed soon if challenges addressed“, reports the Afghanistan Times on 1 November 2014, citing the head of the Afghanistan Railway Authority speaking in an interview with Radio Azadi.

However those “challenges” are the perhaps non-trivial matters of security and funding, and two years sounds like it would be pretty good going for building 495 km of new railway.

According to the report:

  • Yama Shams, General Director & CEO of the Afghanistan Railway Authority, told Radio Azadi that “Engineers and workers of the project are faced with serious problems in areas from Mazar-i-Sharif city to Andkhoy. This area is insecure. They cannot work after 4pm. Our staffers have not been attacked yet but they are under security threat.”
  • Studies have been completed for the 220 km section of line from Mazar-i-Sharif to Andkhoy (where it would meet the line from Turkmenistan). Studies for the next 275 km (presumably the link to Tajikistan) would be completed in 2015.
  • The project could be completed in the next two years if the workers were provided with security and financial support.
  • The total project covers a 635 km route from Aqina near the border with Turkmenistan to Andkhoy, Sheberghan, Mazar-i-Sharif, Khulm, Kunduz and Shirkhan Bandar, ending at Kalkhor Abad (Kolkhozabad) in Tajikistan. This suggests that going via Shirkhan Bandar rather than a shorter route to the Tajik border is back on the agenda.

View Turkmenistan – Andkhoy railway plan in a larger map

Dispute over revised Turkmenistan – Tajikistan railway plan

An agreement between Tajikistan and Afghanistan could see the planned railway between the three countries take a shorter route – but Turkmenistan isn’t happy about this.

The head of Tajik Railways, Amonullo Hukumatullo, reportedly told journalists on 28 January 2014 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.1

Business New Europe quotes 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 (which has countless other spellings).

View Kelif – Hoshadi railway proposal in a larger map

There have been previous proposals for the planned new line from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to head more directly for the Afghanistan/Tajikistan border rather than go via Shirkhan Bandar, but it looks rather like this latest proposal is basically a bypass to enable traffic to reach Tajikistan without transiting Uzbekistan, rather than an attempt to serve northern Afghanistan in its own right.

RIA Novosti quotes Hukumatullo as saying the revised route would be a bit over 200 km long. 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 is given as 5 million tonnes.2

However, Turkmenistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs is not happy with the change of plan, and has issued a press release (my emphasis):3

On January 29, 2014 in the article of the Russian information agency “RIA Novosti” with reference to the head of the state enterprise “Tajik Railways” Amonullo Hukumatullo it was published the information on agreement reached between Dushanbe and Kabul concerning the alternative route of Afghan railway section Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan proposed by the Tajik side. In this regard, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan expresses its extreme concern and misunderstanding related to the statement of the Tajik official. It is known that, in accordance with the international standards, the coordination of the multilateral projects is conducted on the principles of mutual respect and equality of all parties involved in their preparation and implementation. Statement of the head of the state structure of Tajikistan on coordination of the railway section with access to the Turkmen-Afghan border without the participation of Turkmenistan is tendentious and absolutely unacceptable for the Turkmen side. In this regard, the Turkmen side expresses its strong protest and notes that such kind of statements have counterproductive character.
Source: Press release for mass media, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Turkmenistan’s 31 January 2014


Afghanistan – Tajikistan railway project to start within 6 months

Pajhwok Afghan News reports that Public Works Minister Najibullah Awzhan announced on 3 October 2013 that work on a 75 km railway between the Kaldar district of Balkh province and Tajikistan “would be launched in the next six months”. The $200m cost is to be met from the ministry’s development budget.

While special police units are to be deployed to provide security for the construction work, the minister hopes there will be no problems and project will “help boost economic activity in the country.”

Unfortunately the Ministry of Public Works website is currently broken.

Kaldar district is the area bounded by Hairatan to the west and the Amu Darya river forming the border with Tajikistan to the east. From a map, 75 km looks to be about the right distance for a line starting from the existing railway at Hairatan and running to the Tajik border. There is an existing railway in Tajikistan, which the new Afghan line could connect to.

In July 2013 RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan reported – with a handy map – that this route had been given “tentative approval”. It is intended as a temporary measure, pending completion of a planned 300 km line to the Tajik border at Shirkhan Bandar. Public Works Minister Najibullah Ojan told RFE/RL that the temporary link would be dismantled “once the longer section via Konduz is completed in about four years”.


The question must be what this future line would carry. It is hard to imagine that there is sufficient Afghanistan – Tajikistan traffic to justify building a railway.

The existing railway lines to Tajikistan all pass though Uzbekistan. Relations between the two countries have been troubled, and there have been reports of wagons for Tajikistan being delayed in Uzbekistan. Even after this new railway line opens, any traffic from the wider world to Tajikistan would still need to transit Uzbekistan en route to Afghanistan and thence Tajikistan, so presumably traffic for Tajikistan using this new line would still be vulnerable to disruption if the Uzbek authorities knew where it was going?

The new line would really come into its own if/when the future line from Turkmenistan to Andkhoy in Afghanistan line is extended to connect with the Hairatan – Mazar-i-Sharif line. That would then provide a through route from Turkmenistan to Tajikistan via Afghanistan, bypassing Uzbekistan altogether. And in the longer term, there is the possibility of a China (- Kyrgyzstan?) – Tajikistan – Afghanistan – Iran – Turkey – Europe route, albeit with lots of borders to cross, two breaks of gauge and the train ferry across Lake Van.

Tajik rail link rethought?

“Afghan Province Upset At Being Left Out Of Touted Rail Network”, reports Abubakar Siddique at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on 31 July 2013.

The planned railway across northern Afghanistan from the Turkmenistan border to Andkhoy and then east to Tajikistan was due to connect with an extension of the Tajik railway network at Shirkhan Bandar in Kunduz province.

But a new, shorter route given tentative approval this month by the Afghan Public Works Ministry would bypass Konduz by linking the neighboring Afghan province of Balkh to Tajikistan at a point further west along the two countries’ common border.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Governor of Kunduz, Mohammad Anwar Jagdalak, is unimpressed. He told RFE/RL “This new proposed link will prove disastrous for Shir Khan Bandar,” and “We are petitioning our president to plead that the move violates the principle of balanced regional development.”

Afghanistan’s Minister of Public Works Najibullah Ojan told RFE/RL that the time and cost needed to complete the “momentous project” had led the authorities to consider building a 50-60 km temporary rail link on a shorter route, but this line would be dismantled once the longer route via Kunduz was completed in “about four years”.