Northern Distribution Network corruption

This is a fascinating if somewhat depressing read: The New Silk Road and the Northern Distribution Network: A Golden Road to Central Asian Trade Reform?

The New Silk Road and the Northern Distribution Network is a constructive assessment of the conditions and challenges facing this effort that asks and answers the following questions:

  1. Is the Northern Distribution network incentivizing regional cooperation and border reforms?
  2. Is the Northern Distribution Network helping to fight corruption in Central Asia?
  3. Has the Northern Distribution Network made transhipment through Central Asia more efficient?
  4. Are ordinary Central Asian citizens benefitting from Northern Distribution Network trade?

I suspect you can guess the answers… you know what they say about the answer to a headline phrased as a question always being “no”?

The New Silk Road: Where Will It Lead is an interview with the author, Graham Lee. The report itself has lots of numbers for freight transport volumes and costs, which might be of interest to some readers.

In summary, the money being spend on the Northern Distribution Network is all disappearing into a pit of corruption, with lots of people on the take.

The report suggests that the various state railways are doing nicely out of the NDN traffic. I guess that if the freight needs to be moved, railways are more efficient in technical terms. But where is all the money they are getting going – funding strategic infrastructure investments and shiny new trains, disappearing off into general government funds, or into someone’s back pocket?

Silk Road by rail

The Silk Road by train section section of the Caravanistan travel website has some practical information about passenger services on Central Asian railways, (including a page on Afghanistan which doesn’t (yet…) have any passenger trains).

The beds are comfortable, your fellow passengers are sociable and the samovar at the end of the wagon keeps the hot water flowing so you can refill your cup of tea endlessly

Or you could buy a yak

Steam locomotive on top of an Uzbek mountain

On top of a hill in a remote area of Uzbekistan is a steam locomotive painted in the colours of the national flag. What is it, and how on earth did it get up there?

(Photo: Lisa K Walker 2009-06-13)

The locomotive stands on a hill overlooking at Oqrabot (or Акрабат (Akrabat) in Russian) station. Oqrabot is on the railway line from Karshi to Kumkorgan which opened in August 2007, providing a route to Termez which runs entirely within Uzbekistan, eliminating the need to for trains to transit Turkmenistan.

The station is said to be the highest point on the route, at 1510 m, and possibly the highest point on the rail systems of the whole CIS.

(Photo: Dmitry Kolesnikov 2009-03-06)

There is a close-up view of the locomotive in August 2010 on the Steam Engine IS website.

The locomotive carries the number Эр772-91, which transliterates to Er772-91. A vast number of Series E locomotives were built by a factories across eastern Europe, and this one has a plate showing it was built by CKD at Prague in Czechoslovakia; a date of 1951 is mentioned in the comments on Steam Engine IS (it is of course possible that the plate is a modern addition and the number is incorrect for the particular locomotive).

In an article “Red Star Steam” over at the The International Steam Pages, Colin Boocock provides a summary of Soviet standard steam locomotive classes. The Series E was based on a pre-Soviet design. This was developed into the Eu for mass production, followed by the Em and then from 1935-36 the Er, which had a larger grate area and higher superheat; nearly 3000 were built.

More than 10 670 Series E were locos were built in total, “by far the largest number of a single type ever to run in the world”. Despite making “a German Kriegslok look small”, many ended their days as shunters as the USSR really didn’t go in for small locomotives.

According to Tim Littler, locomotive Эр772-9 previously formed part of the “strategic reserve” at Buvaida, around 23 km northeast of Kokand; the reserve is understood to have had 20 Type Er locomotives, which even into the mid-1990s (and possibly into the 2000s?) were maintained at Kokand depot and steamed and run for 100 km every year. They were reported as scrapped 2001, but confirmed to still exist in September 2002 and October 2009. There is reported to be an ‘Eu’ preserved in a park in Kokand, which is also probably an Er.

There are some more photos of Эр772-9, taken by Rifat Irmuhamedov, at the My Tashkent website, where Volodya explains that the locomotive was cut into several pieces and pulled up the hill by a heavy tractor, before being welded together again.

I assume the livery, which replicates the Uzbek flag, is down to modern imagination rather than a colour scheme which the loco would have carried in service.

The poles and wires are apparently for floodlighting the locomotive at night – anyone got any pictures of that?

Thanks to Harvey Smith and Tim Littler for providing background information and to Lisa Walker and Dmitry Kolesnikov for the photographs.

Central Asia railway consultancy formed

The Transportation Consulting Ltd is a newly established consulting company that specializes in provision of professional financial and engineering consulting services in the sphere of railway sector in the Republics of Central Asia. The company reflects a well matched alliance of American and Uzbek partners who have a sober ambition to participate in railway sector development in the region.
In particular, the company has a vast interest in challenging growth of goods hauled into Afghanistan as well as augmentation of existing railway logistics systems of Uzbekistan and its transit potential.

Source: Transportation Consulting

The company has addresses in New Jersey and Tashkent. Their website has a gallery of photos of construction works on the Hairatan to Mazar-i-Sharif railway project, including something which looks rather like a passenger halt.

Inter-continental route via Riga

The 2010-11 brochure of the Freeport of Riga Authority (“Your Reliable Partner on the Shores of the Baltic Sea”) has a page entitled The Fastest Way to Link the EU to the CIS and Asia, showing connections between the Latvian port and central Asia.

This includes a map of the route taken by trains carrying (non-lethal) supplies to Afghanistan.

Freeport of Riga Authority map showing rail freight route between Riga and Afghanistan
A BLOCK TRAIN BETWEEN
RIGA AND HAIRATON
(AFGHANISTAN )
A dedicated block train service between
Riga and Hairaton (Afghanistan) for the
delivery of non-military goods to US troops
in Afghanistan. The train is operated by the
TransContainer company in Russia, and the
transit time is 10-11 days.

The map shows a route via Moscow, Samara, western Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, back into Uzbekistan to what appears to be Termez, and then to Dushanbe in Tajikistan. From Dushanbe the route runs south to Afghanistan, then via Kabul to somewhere in the middle of Afghanistan, and terminates at a place which is labelled “Hairaton” but is actually about where Herat is.

Presumably if the map is correct then transport onwards from Dushanbe is by road, although I might expect that traffic for central Afghanistan would actually be transshipped at Hayratan, while that for Herat would actually go by rail to Towraghondi; maybe there are political problems with going through Turkmenistan, and these can be avoided by using the route along the Uzbek/Turkmen border on a “corridor” basis?

According to the Port Authority’s website, the Afghan traffic was due to begin in 2009:

Regular cargo transit from Riga to Afganistan to be launched

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs consignment goods for international forces involved into peace maintenance mission will be sent from Riga to Afghanistan in the nearest two weeks. The agreement was concluded after General Duncan McNab, the commander of the US Armed Forces Transportation Command, has visited Latvia this week. Both American and Latvian representatives specify that these cargoes will not be military ones.

It was necessary to seek for other cargo transit routes due to security situation deterioration in Pakistan. That is why certain part of goods is delivered to Afghanistan through Georgia. Riga port will be the only port in the European region. From Latvia cargo will be delivered by rail through Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

At present there are 500 containers at Riga port. “In the framework of his visit General McNab has visited Riga port, assessed Latvia’s participation in the process and said that everything is all right,” said high-ranking US Embassy diplomat that did not want to mention his name. The speed of transshipment of cargoes that are now in Riga will mostly depend on freight forwarding companies and countries involved into transportation chain. It is planned that several cargo trains will be sent from Riga to Afghanistan every week.

Source: Freeport of Riga Authority, 2009-05-08

A train seems to have run in February 2009,1 although NATO only announced a first trial shipment from Riga on 14 May 2010, arriving in Afghanistan on 9 June.2 There seem to various subtleties about NATO or individual countries making shipments, and lethal and non-lethal cargoes.

As well as the USA, other NATO members have sent supplies by rail via Riga. The first trains with cargos of the Great Britain, Belgium and Spain arrived already in May 14 [2010]. The cargos comprise construction materials, food. To a certain extent it is connected with safety of the cargos which is difficult to guarantee, for example, in Pakistan where a train of NATO cargos has already been attacked. 3