Central Asian railway politics

Could the TAT railway become TUT?

Tajikistan is talking about constructing a new railway line that would connect the country to Russia via Uzbekistan. Some poorly considered language was used in the statement about this project and that was seized upon by Turkmenistan’s Foreign Ministry, which fired off an equally ill-advised statement rebuking Tajikistan.

[…]

the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan (TAT) railway line that finally made it from Turkmenistan into Afghanistan at the end of 2016.

Turkmen authorities might now wonder if Tajikistan could lose interest in TAT should the new railway project from Tajikistan through Uzbekistan advance.

[more…]

The Reasons Behind The Turkmen-Tajik Tiff, Bruce Pannier, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 29 January 2017.

ADB suspends TAT railway funding

According to a news report, on 15 December 2015 the Asian Development Bank’s Country Director for Tajikistan, Si Si Yu, told reporters that ADB had suspended its financial support for the construction of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan railway owing to security risks.1

“Although Turkmenistan has completed construction of its section of the railway, we do not intend to finance construction of a railway in country where (Afghanistan) security is not guaranteed,” Yu said. “It’s very risky.” He said the ADB would “probably” return to the project “when the security situation in Afghanistan improves.”

I can’t any other reports on this, or an official announcement from ADB.

References

  1. ADB cuts support for construction of Afghan railway, Harun Varlı, Videonews, 16 December 2015

Tajikistan trains Afghanistan Railway Authority staff

Tajikistan provides training to the staff of Afghanistan Railway Authority

According to (100 days) work plan of the ministry and railway department of Afghanistan, Tajikistan’s Ministry of Transport provides vocational trainings for the staff of Railway department.

Recently for the improvement of technical & professional capacity of staff, a short-term training program for three months provided to 30 personnel of Railway Authority in Tajikistan. The training is mostly over the operation and maintenance of railway. Other technical and vocational trainings has already been provided by Iran & China.

Railway Authority was created within the Ministry of Public Works in 1391 [=AD 2012] and the ministry is responsible to facilitate the formation as well as an independent organization Synchronized with the formation of this department, 106 km of the railways starting from Hairatan Port to Mazar-e-Sharif been constructed and every year millions tones of goods transported through this railway.

Railway’s Department have lots of infrastructure projects and with the implementation of these projects, fundamental changes will be executed in transportation system.

Source: Ministry of Public Works, 13 October 2015

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

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

References

Ministry of Public Works commissions railway study

Canarail and Appleton Consulting are to undertake a 12-month feasibility study which will look into extending the Hairatan to Mazar-i-Sharif railway around 225 km west to Sheberghan, Andkhoy and Aqina, and around 50 km northeast to the border with Tajikistan.

Railway Gazette story with more details:

Afghan government commissions east – west rail study

AFGHANISTAN: The Ministry of Public Works has commissioned a feasibility study for a proposed 300 km east – west railway across northern Afghanistan.

The C$3·7m contract announced on December 11 has been awarded to Systra’s Canadian freight railway consultancy Canarail and its partner Appleton Consulting Inc, which specialises in programme management for projects in Afghanistan.

[More at RailwayGazette.com…]

The Canarail announcement:

CANARAIL SIGNS A $3.7 MILLION DEAL IN AFGHANISTAN

Canadian Rail Specialist signs a contract with the Ministry of Public Works of Afghanistan

Montreal, CANADA, December 10, 2013 – CANARAIL’s President and CEO, Mr. Miguel Valero, is proud to announce, along with its Kabul-based partner Appleton Consulting Inc., the signing of a contract with the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to carry out a 300 km railway feasibility study in Northern Afghanistan. Funding for this project comes from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

Building on the conclusions and recommendations of ADB’s Railway Development Study and with the objective to extend the now operational Hairatan to Mazar-e-Sharif Railway, the Government contemplates the construction of a railway heading west from Mazar-e-Sharif through Sheberghan and Andkhoy to Acqina to link with Turkmenistan, and of another railway heading northeast from Mazar-e-Sharif to the border with Tajikistan.

If proved feasible, the extension of the existing railway in both east and west directions will foster cross border and regional trade, increase rail usage, ensure the viability of the initial railway investment, and introduce competition in rail operations.

“Afghanistan has a vast potential for developing the mineral extraction sector, which may be an engine of self-sustaining economic growth in the near future. The decision to award this study to CANARAIL is another demonstration that we stand as a strong and reliable source of expertise for railway matters all over the world. We are very proud to become  Afghanistan and Asian Development Bank’s partner in identifying long term solutions for rail transportation in Afghanistan and in the region and to act as a platform for economic growth.” said Mr. Valero who is just coming back from Kabul where he finalized the contract negotiations.

CANARAIL possesses a unique expertise in rail transport, with a strong focus on heavy haul and mining sectors. Its experts have participated in major projects on an international scale over the last 20 years, contributing to the completion of some of the most important railway projects worldwide.

Despite its vast international experience and track record in the provision of rail services, this is CANARAIL’s first significant gain in Afghanistan and in the region. This success was made possible by its partnership with Appleton Consulting Inc. (ACI), a Canadian firm specialized in programme management for Afghanistan-based projects.

 ABOUT CANARAIL

Founded in 1991, CANARAIL is a CANADA-based rail consulting and engineering firm that specializes in mining, heavy haul freight, and urban domains. CANARAIL is known for its expertise in feasibility studies, consulting, detailed design, and the supervision of construction of major projects. Over the last 21 years, CANARAIL has participated in over 500 projects in Canada, the Middle East, Asia, Africa, North America, Australia, Europe, and Latin America. CANARAIL is headquartered in Montreal and is part of the French group SYSTRA, the world’s largest rail engineering organization.

ABOUT APPLETON

Appleton Consulting Inc. (ACI) is an international business consulting company that focuses on enabling unique business solutions for emerging and developing market sectors. Getting its start in Afghanistan in 2007, Appleton has participated in $400M USD dollars worth of projects with its clients and partners.  Appleton has a wide range of services for its local and international clients including project management, design services, strategic partnership development, proposal writing, supply chain management, training, and environmental consulting services.

Source: Canarail press release, 10 December 2013.

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”.

Strategy

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”.

Presidents launch construction of Turkmenistan – Afghanistan – Tajikistan railway

Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai and Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon were in Atamyrat on 5 June 2013 for an elaborate ceremony to launch construction of the first phase of a railway planned to link the three countries.

Afghanistan's

The helicopters took the leaders of Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan from the airport in Turkmenabat to Atamyrat town, where the ceremony would be held. The leaders of Turkmenistan, the Republic of Tajikistan and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan signed a message to the descendants, put it into a capsule and poured the first shovels of concrete, thus giving a kick-start to the construction of the new railway.
Source: Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan railway to be built, State News Agency of Turkmenistan (TDH), Turkmenistan: the Golden Age Online Newspaper, 5 June 2013

Design work for the initial 85 km from Atamyrat (formerly called Kerki) to the Imamnazar border crossing between Turkmenistan and Afghanistan was completed in 2012. Following a March 2013 meeting between the presidents, Afghanistan formally invited the Turkmen authorities to undertake studies for a 38 km continuation across the border to Aqina and Andkhvoy. This could be funded and built by Turkmenistan. It would provide a second rail link between the countries, in addition to the line to Towraghondi.

The longer-term plan is to continue the new railway across northern Afghanistan to Sherkhan Bandar and Tajikistan.

…[the Presidents] of Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan arrived by helicopter at Atamyrat station. Here, the leaders of three countries signed a letter addressed to posterity, put it in a capsule and place it in concrete, thus giving a symbolic start to construction of a new railway. In their presence, the first rails of Atamyrat-Imamnazar-Akina-Andhoi section of the main railway were laid. This section is stretching for 123 kilometers. The Turkmen part of the railway from Atamyrat station to Akina station, the first station of the new railway in Afghanistan, will be constructed by Turkmen specialists. The length of this portion is 87 kilometers.

Source: Construction of Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan railway launched, Turkmenistan.ru, 6 June 2013.