Turkmenistan and Afghanistan sign railway agreements

President of Afghanistan Mohammad Ashraf Ghani made an official visit to Turkmenistan at the invitation of President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov on 21 February 2019.

As part of the visit, an MoU was signed for Turkmenistan to build the 30 km railway extension from Aqina, on the border, to Andkhoy, the first significant place inside Afghanistan.1 Agreements were also reached for the regulation of cross-border rail traffic, while the possibility of building a Towraghondi to Herat railway is to be studied.

Dwelling on the key areas of economic cooperation, the heads of state specifically focused on the transport and communications sphere. […] The Presidents highly commended the finalization of works and commissioning of the Serhetabat–Torghundi and Kerki–Imamnazar railway networks, and the Rabat–Kashan–Kalai-nau power line.2

[Ghani] noted the presence of big opportunities in different directions of cooperation including in railway transport and communication, having expressed the confidence that Afghan part would also take part in the construction of the railroads of international importance.

In this context, President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani highlighted the importance of the initiative about the continuation of Serhetabat – Turgundy railroad to Herat, having assured that Afghan side would make relative work for the implementation of this project.
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Speaking about the partnership in railway sphere, President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani noted the future of continuation of construction of Kerky – Ymamnazar – Akina railroad as well as continuation of Serhetabat – Turgundy railroad to Herat.3

During the visit

Afghanistan Railway Authority (ARA) and Ministry of Transpiration and Communication of Turkmenistan, in the presence of presidents of Afghanistan and Turkmenistan, singed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for construction of railway from Aaqina port to Andkhoy district. This project will be designed and constructed with the length of 30 km from Aaqina railway’s station to Andkhoy railway’s station by technical facilities and professional experts of Turkmenistan’s railway.

It is worth mention that based on the pre-signed contract between the railway authorities of both countries, construction of 10 km new railway for development of Aaqina railway’s station is in progress. Also during the official trip of the president of Afghanistan and containment delegation to Turkmenistan, two other agreements signed between railway authorities of both countries for administration and organizing of Tor Ghondai port railway’s affairs. The parties as well agreed to jointly assess extension possibility of railway from Sarhadabad-Tor Ghondi to Herat city.4

The lines in question are 1520 mm gauge, as with the route from Uzbekistan to Afghanistan.

An “Agreement on International Railway Transit Point on Turkmen – Afghan State border” was signed “on the government level”, and regulations for the organisation of railway communications between Serhetabat and Turgundy [Towraghondi, etc] adopted.5

Serhetabat – Torghundi railway (re)inauguration

Two ceremonies marking stages of work on the Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline were held on 23 February 2018, one in Turkmenistan to mark completion of the Turkmen section of the pipeline, and the second in Afghanistan’s Herat province to mark the start work on the Afghan section.1

The events included a first train on the recently modernised railway between Serhetabat in Turkmenistan and the freight terminal just across the border at Torghundi in Afghanistan.2

Guests included the President of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov; President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani; Prime Minister of Pakistan, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi; and India’s Minister of State for External Affairs, Mobashar Jawed Akbar.

Goods expects to use the railway include oil products, food, industrial goods and construction materials.

Although described in some reports as “new” railway, the line dates from the Soviet area; it possibly opened in the in the mid to late 1950s, although I have been unable to confirm this. It has now been modernised by Turkmenistan’s national railway company at Turkmenistan’s expense as part of “comprehensive help and support to the people of Afghanistan”, following the 7th Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan that took place in Ashgabat in mid-November 2017.3

The Afghan terminal is in Herat province, but is not in Herat city, which sometimes leads to confusion in news reports. There is also no consistency at all in the spelling of its name: Torghundi, Turghondi, Torghondi, Towraghondi, Turghundi, Torag Hundi, Turgundy, Tuurgundy…

References

  1. Construction of Afghan section of TAPI begins, 1TVNews.af, 23 February 2018
  2. Train Service Opens on New Turkmen–Afghan Railway: Serhetabat–Torghundi, State news agency of Turkmenistan – Turkmenistan today, 23 February 2018
  3. Train Service Opens on New Turkmen–Afghan Railway: Serhetabat–Torghundi, State news agency of Turkmenistan – Turkmenistan today, 23 February 2018

Towraghondi railway photos

Mirwais Nab, Ambassador of Afghanistan to Turkmenistan, tweets two photos of railway modernisation works at Towraghondi on the Afghanistan-Turkmenistan border.

(As an aside, a priority for the project should be an agreement to settle on one romanised spelling of the place’s name!)

Turkmenistan modernises Towraghondi rail line

The train comprosed the loco and 42 vehicles, including a coach carrying construction staff, track machines, cranes and other equipment and materials on flat wagons

Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov visted Serhetabat in late November to launch the “construction of new railway” from the Turkmen border to Towraghondi in Afghanistan, reported Turkmenistan’s official news agency on 29 November 2017.1

A “ceremony of launching Serhetabat – Turgundy railway” is scheduled for the second half of February 2018, with Afghanistan’s President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani planning to attend.2

There already is a railway from Turkmenistan to Towraghondi, so this project might be an upgrade rather than a new line.

The President arrived by helicopter on the morning of the construction launch event, and made a speech highlighting the importance of developing transport links.

Important role is given to the involvement of entire potential of the railway sphere in the development of all branches of national economy and multimodal system of Turkmenistan. Therefore, the greatest attention is paid to the expansion and modernization of its infrastructure.

As an example, the Head of the State gave the railway Kazakhstan – Turkmenistan – Iran, Kerky (formerly Atamyrat) – Ymamnazar – Akina. These and other routes as well those that were planned to be built open new opportunities for fruitful relations between the countries of the region and for consolidation of their economic power.

We render comprehensive support and assistance to fraternal Afghan people and will continue putting all efforts that enhance the revival of the neighbouring state, the Head of the State said, having highlighted that recently, Turkmenistan hosted the VII Regional Economic Cooperation Conference of Afghanistan where important agreements of regional importance were reached.

Having highlighted the decision on increase of the volumes of energy supplied from Turkmenistan to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the Head of the State directed Turkmen railway constructors, who commenced the construction of the roads to Turgundy by the request of Afghanistan.

Source: President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov launches the construction of railway Serhetabat – Turgundy, State News Agency of Turkmenistan – Turkmenistan Today, 29 November 2017

The President then watched a train leave Serhetabat for Towraghondi. The locomotive reportedly hauled 42 vehicles, including a coach carrying railway construction staff, track machines, cranes and other equipment and materials on flat wagons “loaded with all necessary for the construction of new interstate railway line.”

Turkmen staff are to build the railway and develop infrastructure to increase throughput at Towraghondi, enabling Afghanistan to import and export goods more efficiently and providing better links with transport corridors running east-west and north-south in Central Asia.

After watching the train depart, the President held a meeting with railway personnel who would work on the project. The railwaymen “expressed sincere gratitude to the head of state for tireless work for the happiness of the Turkmen people, for the policy of progressive reforms and reforms, for positive initiatives and initiatives that earned independent authority and recognition of the world community for the creation of all necessary conditions for quality work.”3

The President then flew to Mary airport by helicopter, before returning to Ashgabat.

References

  1. President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov launches the construction of railway Serhetabat – Turgundy, The state news agency of Turkmenistan – Turkmenistan today, 29 November 2017
  2. Mohammed Ashraf Ghani to take part in the launch of construction of Afghan part of TAPI gas line, State News Agency of Turkmenistan, 23 December 2017
  3. President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov launched the construction of the railway line Serhetabat-Turgundi, TDH/State Migration Service of Turkmenistan, 30 November 2017

Turkmenistan – Afghanistan rail links to be upgraded

President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan made an official visit to Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov in Ashgabat on 3 July 2017.

Due to the special geo-economics & geopolitics situation of both countries, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan are committed to pay special attention to set up land transportation and railway routes.

Both presidents agreed on expanding cooperation in railroad systems and taking certain measures in this regard. These measures include reconstruction and repairing of the Serhedabad– Turghandi railroad and also expanding Aqina railroad.

[…]

Taking into account the transit and transportation potentials of the both countries, The presidents emphasized on Afghanistan-Turkmenistan-Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey trade and transit corridor and Tajikistan-Afghanistan-Turkmenistan railway.
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At the end of the meeting, the relevant authorities signed the following bilateral cooperation agreements in presence of the two countries’ Presidents:
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  • Regulations on Organization of railway communication through the Turkmen-Afghan State border between stations Akina- Imamnazar;
  • Agreement between the Governments of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan And the Government of Turkmenistan on International Railway checkpoint at the Turkmen-Afghan State Border;

Source: Joint Statement by the Presidents of I.R. Afghanistan and Turkmenistan, Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, 3 July 2017

Afghanistan’s ambassador to Turkmenistan:

CIA information on the Torghundi freight terminal

Turkmen Railways locomotive at Towraghondi

In an attempt to pin down more precisely the opening date of the railway from Serhetabat in Turkmenistan to Towraghandi in Afghanistan, I had a look at some CIA documents which are now publicly available.1

Presumably the CIA would have kept a close eye on transport links to the Soviet border.

My suspicion is that the railway was extended from Kushka into Afghanistan circa 1960-1964 as part of the Soviet-backed Kuskha – Herat – Khandahar road improvement project, which was agreed by the USSR and Afghanistan on 28 May 1959.2

A July 1964 US photographic interpretation report describes Soviet military facilities at Kushka (now known as Serhetabat),3 with photos and a map of the “supply depot and rail-to-road transfer point” located “6 km southwest of Kushka at the terminus of the Mary-Kushka branch rail line, approximately 3 km from the Afghanistan border”.

1964 Central Intelligence Agency map of rail facilities at Kushka
(Map: Central Intelligence Agency, 1964)

Although the site is shown in the report as being located on the Soviet side of the Afghan border, comparing the photos, map and the latitude and longitude shows that the rail facility which is being described is almost certainly the same thing as the current Towraghondi (to pick one of many spellings!) freight terminal, which is inside Afghanistan.

1964 Central Intelligence Agency map of rail facilities at Kushka
(Map: Central Intelligence Agency, 1964)

So it looks like the railway did exist by 1964, but we now have a question as to why the 1964 CIA document put the Soviet-Afghan border further south and west of the current Turkmenistan-Afghan border. As far as I know, the border in the area has not moved since being fixed in the late 19th century, and Soviet maps such as this one from 1985 show the current border with the railway extending into Afghanistan:

Soviet map showing the railway from Kushka to Towraghondi

References

  1. Freedom of Information Act Electronic Reading Room, CIA
  2. Central Intelligence Bulletin, 29 January 1969, CIA, USA
  3. KUSHKA MILITARY AREAS KUSHKA, USSR TURKESTAN MD. Document Number (FOIA) /ESDN (CREST): CIA-RDP78B04560A002400010012-9. NATIONAL PHOTOGRAPHIC INTERPRETATION CENTER, USA

Herat to Torghundi railway study comissioned

On 4 April 2016 Afghanistan's Ministry of Public Works signed a contract for Canarail to undertake a technical feasibility study for a railway from Herat to Torghundi

On 4 April 2016 Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Works signed a contract for Canadian consultancy Canarail to undertake a technical feasibility study for a proposed railway which would run from Herat to the Turkmenistan Railways railhead and freight yard at Torghundi.1 The study is expected to take six months to complete, with the Asian Development Bank covering the US$$1,603,500 cost.2

Contract between MoPW and Canarail International Company for economic and technical studies of Herat – Torghondi project has been signed.

H.E. Eng. Mahmoud Baligh, Minister of Public Works said “this railway project involves five countries as of China, Kazakhstan [sic; the Persian-language version of the announcement appears to say Kyrgyzstan, which would make more sense], Tajikistan, Iran and Afghanistan, which connect Asia to Europe through Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan. Although Afghanistan is a mountainous country & developing road network is very challenging, but to become a part of transit countries which is our historic and old vision so we have to develop the railway network to reach major economic powers, this issue for increasing domestic revenues and enhance economic growth plays a major role”.

Mentioned project takes 200 km length and will last 6 months to construct and cost $ 1.6 Million USD which is funded by Asian Development Bank.

Source: Contract of Technical and Economic studies of (Herat – Torghondi railway) has been signed, Ministry of Public Works, 5 April 2016

This seems to be referring to the Five Nations railway plan for a corridor from China to Central Asia, Afghanistan and Iran. It is not clear what the 200 km refers to; Herat to the border is about 80 km in a straight line. US$1.6m might fund the technical study, but wouldn’t cover much construction work.

The gauge is not specified. Torghondi is the gateway to the 1520 mm network in the former USSR, however a 1435 mm gauge line is under construction from Iran to Herat.

In December 2013 the Ministry of Public Works had appointed Canarail and Appleton Consulting to undertake a 12-month study of the feasibility of 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.

Historical note

During the 19th Century Great Game era there was concern in Britain that Russia might one day build a rail link from the Trans-Caspian Railway to Herat, which it was feared would be a useful base for any Russian advance on India. British strategists – serious and armchair – debated the merits of building a railway to Kandahar as a counter-move. It was reported that the Russians had a stockpile of railway materials at Kushka (now Serhetabat) which would have enabled them to build a line to Herat in a hurry, and the British set up a supply depot at Chaman on the Indian frontier containing the track components which would be required for their line to Kandahar.

References