Afghanistan National Railway Plan at the CAREC Railway Working Group

The First Meeting of the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation organisation’s Railway Working Group was held on Tokyo on 24-26 November 2015. The CAREC Railway Working Group was formed after the 14th CAREC Transport Sector Coordinating Committee Meeting which was held in Ulaanbaatar on 28-29 April 2015, and aims to guide the development of a short and medium-term railway strategy for the CAREC region.

Afghanistan National Railway Plan map

The presentations from the meeting can be downloaded from the CAREC website, and have a lot of interesting information about railways in the CAREC member countries.

Day 1 featured a presentation on the Afghanistan National Railway Plan and Way Forward by Mohammad Yamma Shams, Director General & Chief Executive Officer of the Afghanistan Railway Authority. This sets out current thinking under AfRA’s Afghanistan National Railway Plan, and the status of the various proposals for a 5500 km network.

CAREC railway plans

The 14th CAREC Transport Sector Coordinating Committee Meeting was held in Ulaanbaatar on 28-29 April 2015. Its webpage links to various presentations, which seem to contain some good stuff about Afghan and Central Asian railway development plans in a mixture of English and Russian.

One presentation by Kubatbek Rakhimov covers the Railway Development in Central Asia. The review of the Soviet period up to the present. This provides a quick overview of the strategic issues, in particular the problems arrising as a result of the unified Soviet rail network being fragmented as the USSR disolved and the newly-independent countries focused on building bypasses with their territory rather than on developing international corridors.

There was a presentation on the future CAREC railway network by ADB consultant Thomas Kennedy. This says the “new railway country of Afghanistan offers new route potential”. It explains that CAREC railways are still in the transition from a command economy to a market-based structure, while road transport is becoming more competitive, and there is a shift in trading partners and routes as China gains economic significance. There is a need to agree on a near-term strategic vision for CAREC railways, which also need changes in four primary areas: political/institutional, infrastructure, intergration/interoperability, technical. The most critical aspect is that railways need to understand the costs of their own services, as this is essential for setting pricing policies, business agreements and track access charges.

Kennedy concludes by saying the next step should be to identify a “designated rail corridor” for development as a pilot. This sounds like the situation in the EU, where it became apparent that it makes more sense to focus on international corridors, rather than on separate national projects which could end up leaving bottlenecks on important routes.

The CAREC Working Group on Railways sets out timescales, and sets out a two year timescale for the Khorgas – Tashkent – Termez – Mazar-i-Sharif or Aqina – Turkmenabat – Ashgabat – Aktau routes.

ADB article about the Hayratan railway project

An article from the Asian Development Bank’s Media Center about the Hayratan to Mazar-i-Sharif project – with the first photographs I’ve seen of railway construction work underway.

The ADB also has an article about railway modernisation in Uzbekistan.

Railway to Regional Integration

by Philip Wood

Photograph of railway construction works in Afghanistan

Today, as new trade routes connect landlocked Central Asia with the booming economies of South Asia and the Middle East, Afghanistan’s geographic position is proving a valuable asset.

Hairatan, Afghanistan—For centuries, Afghanistan’s strategic location has been a liability, inviting unwanted attention from countries near and far. But today, as new trade routes connect landlocked Central Asia with the booming economies of South Asia and the Middle East, Afghanistan’s geographic position is proving a valuable asset.

The bulldozers on the dusty northern plains of Hairatan attest to the fact that Afghanistan is poised to become a regional hub for trade and commerce. It is here, across the river from neighboring Uzbekistan, that the building blocks of a 75-kilometer single-line railway are being laid—thanks to a $165 million ADB grant.

Photograph of railway construction works in Afghanistan

The Hairatan border post is the gateway for almost half of Afghanistan’s road imports, but the existing transport infrastructure cannot cope with expanding trade and humanitarian relief. When completed in late 2010, the new rail line will remove the major bottlenecks that have formed at the border, quadrupling capacity and boosting regional trade.

As part of the Transport Strategy and Action Plan under the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation Program (CAREC), the project will open alternative routes of supply for national and international trade, as well as for humanitarian relief coming into Afghanistan.

The new line will connect Afghanistan to Uzbekistan’s expansive rail network. The initial segment will run between Hairatan and Mazare-e-Sharif, Afghanistan’s second largest city. Future links are planned that will run across the north to other parts of the country and region, including Herat, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.

“The new train line will boost freight volumes, lower costs, and raise the profile of Afghanistan as a transit route,” said ADB Afghanistan Country Director Craig Steffensen. “In addition, Central Asian states and Xinjiang, People’s Republic of China, will be able to access world markets more cheaply and easily via Afghanistan and seaports on the Gulf, thus improving their competitiveness in world markets.”

Founded in 1997, CAREC is a partnership of eight countries: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, the People’s Republic of China, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan; and six multilateral institutions: ADB, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the International Monetary Fund, the Islamic Development Bank, the United Nations Development Programme, and the World Bank.

At the heart of CAREC is a plan to develop a seamless network of transport corridors connecting member countries to one another, to fast-growing economies of East and South Asia, and to established markets in Europe and the Russian Federation.
Source: Asian Development Bank, 2010-03-30

Hayratan to Mazar-i-Sharif project details

Asian Development Bank has details of the Hairatan to Mazar-e-Sharif Railway Project. “Interesting to see it all in one place” says Michael G Erickson who spotted it.

The Hairatan to Mazar-e-Sharif railway link is part of the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) Program. It fits with Transport Corridors 3 and 6, which connect Central Asia to South Asia and the region to the Caucasus and the Middle East. Although the road between Hairatan and Mazar-e-Sharif has been improved, it cannot meet national and regional traffic needs. A railway from Hairatan to Mazar-e-Sharif will (i) improve links between Afghanistan and neighboring countries, as well as nearby seaports; and (ii) develop an integrated transport network that caters for different cargo.

The existing Uzbek railway network stops at the border town of Hairatan. This is a gateway to Afghanistan, but it has reached its full capacity (4,000 tons of cargo per month). The flow of goods from Central Asia to Afghanistan will increase from 25,000 tons to 40,000 tons per month over the next few years. To prevent bottlenecks at the border, the existing Uzbek railway at Hairatan needs to be extended into Afghanistan, in a first intervention, to Mazar-e-Sharif. At a later stage, the railway network will be extended to Herat in the west and Tajikistan in the east. The railway will service commercial and non-military cargo.

The project is a priority one for Afghanistan. It fits with its Railway Development Plan. It is closely linked to ADB’s Country Partnership Strategy for 2009-2013, which identifies the construction and rehabilitation of national roads and railways as a priority. It is also consistent with the CAREC Transport and Trade Facilitation Strategy.

The infrastructure:

The Project outputs will be (i) around 80kms railway line from Hairatan to Mazar-e-Sharif with support facilities including rail/road connections and terminals constructed; (ii) established signaling and management information system; (iii) productive use of available land and social safeguarded; (iv) safeguarded and protected environment along railway corridor; (vi) strengthened institutions and management capacity.
Source: Asian Development Bank

Meanwhile, New rail line between Uzbekistan, Afghanistan to serve strategic purpose, reports Central Asia Online:

The construction of the 67km-long line is included in a memorandum of understanding to expand trade and economic opportunities that was recently signed by Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and the Asian Development Bank.

A technical team from Uzbek Railway is scheduled to arrive in Afghanistan shortly to prepare for construction. The cost of the project is estimated to be US$120 million, an amount that will provided by the Asian Development Bank. Construction is tentatively slated to begin in December.
Source: Central Asia Online, 2009-08-29

Maps of planned Afghan rail projects

Asian Development Bank’s documentation on the 7th Ministerial Conference on Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation held in Baku on 19–21 November 2008 includes a PDF with maps of the various railway proposals currently active in Afghanistan.

Railway Development Plans in Afghanistan (2.2 MB PDF), was a presentation by Dr Wali Mohammad Rasooli, Technical Deputy Minister, Ministry of Public Works, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.