Afghanistan to China rail freight discussions

President Ashraf Ghani’s advisor on Central Asian Affairs said after a meeting with Uzbekistan officials that Afghan traders will soon be able to export goods to China via rail once existing problems have been ironed out.
[…]
“(In 2016) the railway line was opened at the Afghanistan border (with Uzbekistan) from China as a pilot project. This will no longer be a pilot project. It will be a transit route. The railway trucks that used to return empty to China, will soon carry goods (from Afghanistan). But we need to solve problems inside our country and the commerce and industries ministry should solve the problems,” said Kargar.
[…]
“This is a big achievement. It takes us one and half months to transport goods from China, but (once the railway line opens) goods will arrive at our border in only 10 days,” said the head of Afghanistan’s Railway Authority, Abdul Bari Sediqi
[…]
Source: Officials Tackle Afghanistan-China Railway Line Issues, By Zabihullah Jahanmal, Tolo News, 24 June 2018

Uzbekistan to part-fund Mazar-i-Sharif – Herat railway

Following the international Tashkent Conference on Afghanistan which was held on 26-27 March 2018, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Finance said Uzbekistan had pledged to provide USD500m to part-fund the construction of a proposed 657 km extension of the Uzbekistan to Mazar-e-Sharif railway onwards to Herat.1 This would connect with the line under construction from Iran to Herat, providing a transit route from Central Asia, and potentially China, to Iran and Europe.

Komil Allamjonov, Press-Secretary to the President of Uzbekistan, Tweeted:

The Afghanistan Railway Authority estimates that the new line would cost USD1.8bn, and so the Afghan government is seeking additional funding from other countries.

AfRA head Mohammad Yama Shams told Tolo News that talks had begun with Iran and were ongoing with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, while China was also interested in investing in the project. A contractor could be selected in the near future, according to AfRA, and construction would take two years. AfRA estimates that Afghanistan would earn about USD40m a year from the line.

The quoted cost works out at USD1.8bn/657 km = 2.73m USD/km. The Hairatan – Mazar-i-Sharif line cost USD170m for 75 km2 or 2.27 USD/km, so the numbers are not dissimilar.

in his address to the international conference,3 Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev said:

I have no doubt that in the long run peace on the Afghan soil will open up the new opportunities and bring real benefits to all states of the greater Eurasian continent. It will promote strengthening common security and stability, create favorable conditions for the construction of motorways and railroads, laying of pipelines, development of regional and trans-regional trade.
[…]
We are jointly promoting the implementation of another strategic project – extension of the currently operating Hairaton – Mazar-i-Sharif railway built by Uzbek specialists up to Herat.

This project will allow to make a real and practical contribution to reconstruction of Afghanistan’s economy, create new jobs and increase the transit potential of the country.

Launching the trans-Afghan transport-communication projects in close integration with other and not less significant regional projects such as Uzbekistan–Turkmenistan–Iran–Oman and Uzbekistan-Kyrgyzstan–China will also create all necessary conditions for the development of intercontinental transport corridors in almost all directions – from north to south and from east to west through the shortest route.

Fazel Fazly, senior aide to the President of Afghanistan, tweeted:

Eklil Hakimi, Afghanistan’s Minister of Finance said:

Development Economist Rafi Fazil commented:

Hameed Hakimi, Research Associate at Chatham House, pointed out:

References

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

Afghanistan seeks Uzbek export route

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.

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

Crossing the Friendship Bridge on foot

An article by traveller Jonny Blair describing crossing the Uzbekistan-Afghanistan border. It includes pictures of a freight train crossing the Friendship Bridge as he walks across.

At this moment a freight train energises its way past me, just to remind me there are other people around. I briefly envisage Ringo Starr belting out a shit Thomas the Tank Engine line. This is truly off the rails though.

Two videos of walking over the Friendship Bridge:

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.