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.

Rail developments in northern Afghanistan

An interesting article about the Uzbekistan – Hayratan – Mazar-i-Sharif railway from the Fayetteville Observer: U.S. works to get Afghans on track with rail network, Drew Brooks, Fay Observer, 2 May 2014.

The article is well worth a read. Some highlights:

  • About 4 600 wagons a month use the line between the border and Mazar-e-Sharif.
  • More than 90% of the fuel used by coalition forces enters Afghanistan by rail through Hayratan.
  • The railway from Camp Marmal near Mazar-i-Sharif is a “secondary outlet” for military equipment leaving for ports in Latvia or Estonia.
  • The line is a “major thoroughfare” for coalition military equipment being shipped to Germany or France, but has only carried about 600 to 700 US containers
  • The line is operated by Uzbekistan as part of a bilateral agreement. The Uzbek government – not Afghanistan – collects money from the imports.
  • Afghanistan is expected to eventually take control of the line.
  • Afghanistan has already assumed responsibility for some tasks and purchased its first two locomotives [does anyone know what they are?].
  • The international co-operation that helped create the line is seen as integral to the development of a larger network.
  • “This is the safest place in all of Afghanistan.”

There are also a couple of photos, including a good aerial view of the area around the Friendship Bridge.

Finally: “The idea of a transportation network is a new idea for them,” Hakey said before motioning to a small wooden tabletop. “Back home, you have a lot of interest groups, there are rail fans. Here, you could probably lay out all the photos of Afghan rail on this table.”

Friendship Bridge opening photographs

A Russian-language photograph archive with images of the official opening ceremony for the Friendship bridge between the USSR and Afghanistan on 12 May 1982, and associated events including a tree-planting ceremony on the previous day.

The photos include a view of the bridge decorated with large photos of Soviet and Afghan bigwigs – I think they are Brezhnev on the left and Afghanistan’s President Karmal on the right(?).