Chaman – Spin Boldak railway progress at last?

Various recent news reports, when taken together, imply that there could be some progress with the plans for a rail link from Pakistan to Spin Boldak.

This would be a 10-15 km extension of the Pakistan Railways line which currently terminates at Chaman, just short of the Afghan border.

On the other hand, it might just be talk. Does anyone know anything hard about what might be happening?

Building this long-proposed extension would seem to make sense. A line from Chaman to Spin Boldak would just be a cross-border extension of Pakistan Railways’ 1676 mm gauge rail network to the first settlement on the Afghan side of the border.

It would be comparable to the lines to Hayratan and Towraghondi in the north of Afghanistan, which are simply cross-border extensions of the Uzbek and Turkmen railway networks. Customs formalities and the like could be completed with Afghanistan, rather than Pakistan.

View Chaman – Spin Boldak railway in a larger map

Pakistan has helped Kabul to construct Chaman-Kandahar Rail Link claims a 1 August 2009 report by NN Khattak in The Frontier Post.

Blame game must end

Pakistan is doing its best within its resources to help Afghanistan in its rebuilding efforts. Both countries agreed to cooperate on a pipeline project that would transport energy from Central Asia via Afghanistan into Pakistan. There is also talk of running a railroad through Afghanistan that would connect the republics of Central Asia with Pakistan and, through Pakistan’s ports, to overseas markets. Similarly, there are ongoing discussions about bus links between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Pakistan has constructed 75km long Torkham-Jalalabad Road and internal roads in Jalalabad to promote Afghanistan’s economy and trade. To bring the people of both countries closer, Pakistan has helped Kabul to construct Chaman-Kandahar Rail Link. This will help the people of Afghanistan to enter a new phase of industrialisation and development. Pakistan has provided 100 buses to Afghanistan to promote people-to-people contacts. The bus service between the cities of Pakistan and Afghanistan would enhance the cooperation between the people of both countries.

Source: The Frontier Post, 2009-08-01

Then there is this:

Pakistan turns to China to modernise railways

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and China have agreed to cooperate for modernization of Pakistan Railways network, DawnNews quoted Railways Minister Haji Ghulam Ahmed Bilour as saying.

Bilour said that Pakistan Railways wanted to strengthen and expand the Torkham railway line [Khyber Pass] to meet the international standard, Quetta-Chaman-Kandahar section [Chaman – Kandahar doesn’t yet exist], Quetta-Iran [presumably the Zahedan route], and Quetta-Peshawar railway link via Zhob- D I Khan-Bakhar.

The railways minister said that Chinese side emphasized the need for early laying of Torkham-Jalalabad railway track [an extension of the Khyber Pass line] as they wanted to connect this section with Afghanistan so that they could use the Pakistan Railways network to transport their goods and equipment for the development of copper mines and various other projects launched in Afghanistan.

Source: Dawn, 2009-07-28

A line from Chaman across the border to Spin Boldak has been discussed for a very long time, with Britain contemplating building a line on to Kandahar in the nineteenth century. A line from Quetta to New Chaman opened by 1891, running 5 km beyond Chaman fort to terminate within 200 m of the frontier. This railway did not enter Afghanistan as such – the 1893 Durrand line was drawn around it – but rumour had it that track materials were stockpiled in case a military emergency required the rapid construction of a line over the border.

Proposals for the extension have resurfaced every so often, including in 1966, when Railway Gazette reported “Work on the proposed rail link between Chaman in Pakistan and Spin Baldak in Afghanistan is to begin soon and will take about a year and a half to complete. The link will be over seven miles long and will cost about $800 000. Over two miles of the link will be in Pakistani territory.”

This was to have been funded by the US Agency for International Development, but was canceled in 1968. Despite this, the line is actually shown on some maps.

The scheme has been discussed many times since, with studies in 2004 and 2007. In May 2009 the government of Pakistan said preliminary work had begun.

Maybe something is finally happening? ISAF is in need of a reliable transport route to Afghanistan, and perhaps has been the spur to action which has been needed?

In the longer term and given a suitable political climate, a Chaman – Spin Boldak line could be extended onwards a further 80-100 km from Spin Boldak to the city of Kandahar. This would be a significant destination in its own right, rather than just a border town. And from Kandahar, we can look at the map and dream of taking the permanent way onwards towards Herat, and thus Iran. And maybe one day Central Asia…

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