Memorandum for Kandahar and Jalalabad railways

Has anyone got a copy of the text of the joint communique?

Pakistan, Afghanistan agree to establish rail links

By Sajid Chaudhry

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and Afghanistan on Wednesday signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for establishing the Torkham-Jalalabad and Chaman-Spinboldak-Kandhar rail links.

The MoU, covering feasibility studies for both the projects, was signed by Federal Railways Minister Ghulam Ahmed Bilour and Afghan Finance Minister Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal on Wednesday.

However, both countries failed to break the deadlock over the transit facility for Indian goods that would be sent to Afghanistan via Pakistan under the proposed Afghan -Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA).
Source: Daily Times, 2010-07-08

The Jalalabad plan presumably means rehabilitating the Khyber Pass line and then extending it over the border into Afghanistan for the first time.

Railway Gazette International on Afghan rail plans

Railway Gazette International on the latest Afghan rail plans:

Afghan rail strategy takes shape

The first phase would start at Sher Khan Bandar on the Tajik border, connect at Naibabad with the 1520 mm gauge line now under construction from Uzbekistan, and continue through Mazar-i-Sharif to Herat, with the possibility of a link to the Turkmemistan Railways line at Towraghondi. A branch would run from Shirbirghan via Andkhvoy to the Aqina border crossing with Turkmenistan.
A second phase would see a Chinese-backed line built from Mazar-i-Sharif to Kabul, Jalalabad and Torkham, near the Khyber Pass. The long-proposed extension of Pakistan Railways’ Chaman line to Kandahar is also planned.
Source: Railway Gazette International, 2010-06-28

Reuters on Afghan rail projects

The first mention I’ve seen of Kandahar as a destination for the current projects.

New Afghan railroad to boost trade and supply troops

By Jonathon Burch

KABUL, May 25 (Reuters) – Afghanistan’s first railway in almost a century is due to be completed before the year’s end, officials said on Tuesday, with the aim of not only boosting the country’s economy but also supplying NATO troops there.
While acknowledging the current stretch of railway may be modest, the ADB says the plan is to eventually extend the connection southwest to the city of Herat and south to Kandahar city, linking the network to Iran and Pakistan.
Source: Reuters, 2010-05-25

There are actually the “rusting shells” of three steam locomotives.

Quetta to Kandahar feasibility study

Feasibility report of starting railway service from Quetta to Kandahar okayed

QUETTA: The feasibility report of starting railway service from Quetta to Kandahar has been prepared and sent to the Afghan government and its response is awaited.

This was stated by deputy superintendent of Pakistan Railway Balochistan while addressing a press conference at his office here on Saturday.
Source: Online-International News Network, 2010-01-17

This is the Chaman – Spin Boldak – Kandahar line, which has been under discussion for a very long time.

Kandahar railway on War Office map is an online resource for anyone interested in knowing more about the Second Anglo-Afghan War of 1878-1880. It is also the home of the Second Afghan War database project, a collection of names, family histories and stories concerning those who participated in this lesser-known campaign from the days Queen Victoria’s British Empire.

Map showing proposed Quetta - Kandahar railway, 1895

The website has this 1895 War Office map, which, interestingly, shows the never-built railway from the Indian (now Pakistani) border at Chaman to Kandahar.

British reconnaissance parties looking for a route for the proposed railway had reached Kandahar by December 1879, but they were in enemy country and so it was difficult to identify an optimal route. The British authorities realised it would not be possible for the railway to reach even as far as Quetta before the end of the war, and so the work was given a lower priority. When a new cabinet was formed under Gladstone in April 1880 they put the planned extension to Kandahar on hold.

Pakistan Railways still runs to Chaman, and plans for an extension as far as Spin Boldak resurface every so often – it even appears on some more recent maps, though it has never existed.

Are you there Moriarty?

And finally… while Sherlock Holmes’s sidekick Dr Watson may not really have been in the Second Afghan War, it seems a Moriarty was

Maps of railways to the borders

Amongst a collection of Historical Maps of India is Plate 24 Sect. III: Afghan Frontier, SE Afghanistan and west Punjab from the 1893 edition of Constable’s Hand Atlas of India, showing the never-built Chaman – Kandahar railway.

Chaman to Kandahar railway on the 1893 edition of Constable's Hand Atlas of India

The Digital South Asia Library has a high resolution scan of the 1909 Imperial Gazetteer of India map of Afghanistan showing the Russia railway from Merv (Mary) to Kushka (Serhetabat) close the Afghan border.
Imperial Gazetteer of India 1909 map of Afghanistan

China’s interest in Pakistan rail links

In an article at Asia Times Online, Syed Fazl-e-Haider writes about co-operation between China and Pakistan, including plans to extend the Khyber Pass line and build the Spin Boldak line. There is also discussion of a direct China – Pakistan railway.

Chinese shun Pakistan exodus

China has also shown interest in early laying a track between the Pakistan border town of Torkham and Jalalabad in Afghanistan, as the Chinese want to use the Pakistan Railways network to transport their goods and equipment for the development of copper mines and various other projects in Afghanistan. Separately, Pakistan Railways has completed a feasibility study for a rail section between Chaman, in Balochistan, and Kandahar in Afghanistan that is part of a proposed link across Afghanistan to Turkmenistan.
Source: Asia Times Online, 2009-09-11

Planning a Chaman – Kandahar route

Pakistan Space & Upper Atmosphere Research Commission has used satellite images for Route Selection for Chaman Kandhar Railway Line. The client was Pakistan Railways, but unfortunately there is no date.

Satellite image of proposed route for Chaman to Kandahar railway

Scope of Work:

  • To locate feasible route from Chamman, Pakistan to Kandhar, Afghanistan. The route had been marked on the satellite image
  • Processing of satellite data. Geo-referencing. Digitization of SRS data for Chamman-Kandhar Railways Route Location and alignment

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…

‘Preliminary work’ started on Kandahar and Jalalabad lines

An official government of Pakistan press release dated 19 May 2009 claims preliminary work is underway for the long-planned Chaman – Spin Boldak – Kandahar extension of Pakistan’s rail network into Afghanistan.

The press release also says similar work is underway on a line from Peshawar to Jalalabad; presumably the rehabilitation of the famous Khyber Pass line combined with an extension over the frontier.

PR No. 206

UKRAINian ambassador calls on minister for railways

Islamabad; May 19, 2009

Ukrainian Ambassador, Mr. Ihar Pasko called on Federal Minister for Railways Ghulam Ahmad Bilour here today.

The matters of mutual interests in the backdrop of extending cooperation and business in Railway sector between the two countries came under discussion.

The Federal Minister for Railways briefed the Ambassador about on-going development in Railways Sector and told that preliminary work has been started on Chaman-Qandhar section and Peshawar-Jalalabad section.

The Minister said that establishment of rail link with Afghanistan, Pakistan may provide an easy access to Central Asia Russia and rest of Europe.

The Ukrainian Ambassador briefed the Minister about the achievement and development of Ukrainian Railways and expressed his eagerness to extend cooperation in railway sector with Pakistan.

The Ambassador highlighted the characteristics of Ukrane locomotives, Tracks and other technicalities.

The Secretary and Chairman Railways welcomed the offer made by Ambassador and said that Ukraine might also participate in Tender Process by following the rules and procedures laid down by the Railways Ministry regarding procurement.

The Secretary Railways further said that the exchange of Railway experts from both sides will benefit each other in professional backdrop.
Source: Press Information Department, Government of Pakistan 2009-05-19

Unfortunately it does not specifiy what “preliminary work” means.

Reduction in deficit of Pakistan Railway witness in current financial year: Bilour.

ISLAMABAD, 13 May, 2009 (Frontier Star) — Federal Minister for Railways, Ghulam Ahmad Bilour has said […] while talking to media on the occasion of inauguration of “Islamabad Express” […] the under-construction Railway project from Chaman to Afghanistan would be completed very soon, reducing not only the travelling difficulties of passengers but also save their time.
Source: The Free Library/Asia Pulse/Frontier Star

The idea of a line to Kandahar has been discussed for many years – it was one of the first proposals for an Afghan railway way back in the 19th century.

On 1 October 2004 the Pakistan Times reported:

Quetta-Kandhar Bus Service to begin Shortly

[A meeting between] Governor Balochistan Owais Ahmed Ghani and Governor Kandhar Engineer Mohammed Yousuf Pashtoon […] decided to start construction of Railway line between Pakistani border town Chaman and Afghan city Kandhar for which survey has already been conducted. […] The 100 km Railway track would be completed at an estimated cost of US dollar 110 million with the coorporation of Pakistan Railways.
Source: Pakistan Times 2004-10-01