Photo of the Mazar-i-Sharif rail freight terminal

42533-022: Hairatan to Mazar-e-Sharif Railway Project in Afghanistan

The Asian Development Bank has published this rather fine photo, captioned:

Railway terminal in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan, January 5, 2014. The railway has provided easy transportation for oil, wood, flour, wheat, asphalt and other important products

There is what looks like a TEM2 diesel locomotive in the background.

Despite the date in the caption, the metadata says the picture was taken on 19 December 2013, by Jawad Jalali (presumably this Afghan photographer).

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.

Hairatan to Mazar-i-Sharif railway management contracts planned

Afghanistan Reconstruction & Development Services has published the Afghanistan Railway Authority’s invitation for expressions of interest in three contracts covering the operation, maintenance and management of the Hairatan to Mazar-i-Sharif railway.

Responses from “experienced, high caliber and competent national and international rail operating, maintenance and management companies” should be submitted to the Ministry of Public Works by 5:00 pm local time on 15 November 2014.

Soliciting expressions of interest is the first step of a possible bidding process. Evaluation would be conducted internally within AfRA/MPW according to Afghan procurement law and procedures. Companies which are shortlisted would be invited to submit their proposals.

The invitation document says the Hairatan to Mazar-i-Sharif railway comprises 75 km of main line and 63 km of loop line, a total of 138 km, which “went into operation in December 2011 and has been successfully operated, maintained and managed.”

The performance-based operation and maintenance services would include but not be limited to:

  • Quantification of assets and characteristics of the railway system
  • Required Operations services
  • Required Infrastructure Maintenance services
  • Required Management services
  • Technical specifications and standards
  • Necessary equipment for proactive for operations and maintenance
  • Performance standards, including benchmarks of operational, rolling stock, and infrastructure asset maintenance; targets of goods to be transported per year; maintenance of infrastructure; correction of defective maintenance; type and availability of trains; procedures for delays, accidents, and incidents; and locomotive and wagon maintenance.
  • Outline of the revenue account for revenue deposits, maintained by the operator and transferred at fixed intervals to the owner
  • Quality management to meet best industry standards of O&M
  • Performance securities and insurance
  • Format of a summary of usage report to record operator activities performed
  • Establishment of an operating account, outlining costs and revenues
  • Environmental management plan
  • Description of force majeure events, conditions, or circumstances
  • Training for staff on O&M
  • Dispute resolution mechanism

Interested companies should demonstrate:

  1. 10 Years Similar experience in Rail operations, Management and Maintenance of 1520 mm and/or 1435 mm gauges railway lines.
  2. Reasonable and adequate financial resources
  3. Regional experience and joint-venture with national firms is plus
  4. Human resource capacity to operate, manage and carry out infrastructure maintenance
  5. Adequate machinery, rolling-stock, tools and equipment
  6. Good performance record
  7. Companies are advised to provide only materials that are specific to the proposed service as to avoid submitting generic promotional material.

The call for expression of interest also gives AfRA’s description of itself:

Afghanistan Railway Authority (AfRA) is the governing body for all railway planning, development, network, operations and maintenance in Afghanistan.

Based on our vision of long-term rail development, we will ensure all rail stakeholders are, committed to the safety of employees, customers and the public. We feel that a progressive railway network can be operated with integrity, having concern and consideration for our neighbors, the local community, and the environment.

We stand committed to the safe and efficient movement of resources, goods, humans, animals and information material to, from, and through Afghanistan by developing an integrated National Railway Plan, sustainable policies, safety and operational regulations as well as becoming a contributing member of regional and international partnerships.

The AfRA is responsible for legal and regulatory policies governing rail investment, development, and operations. This includes the regulatory oversight needed for a safe, efficient, and reliable rail network. The AfRA is also the sole governing body in charge of planning, survey, design, construction and operations of the entire railway lines in Afghanistan. AfRA will ensure railway companies and stakeholders are engaged corporate citizens, committed to the safety of employees, customers and the public.

Turkmenistan – Afghanistan – Tajikistan line needs money and security

Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan Railway project to be completed soon if challenges addressed“, reports the Afghanistan Times on 1 November 2014, citing the head of the Afghanistan Railway Authority speaking in an interview with Radio Azadi.

However those “challenges” are the perhaps non-trivial matters of security and funding, and two years sounds like it would be pretty good going for building 495 km of new railway.

According to the report:

  • Yama Shams, General Director & CEO of the Afghanistan Railway Authority, told Radio Azadi that “Engineers and workers of the project are faced with serious problems in areas from Mazar-i-Sharif city to Andkhoy. This area is insecure. They cannot work after 4pm. Our staffers have not been attacked yet but they are under security threat.”
  • Studies have been completed for the 220 km section of line from Mazar-i-Sharif to Andkhoy (where it would meet the line from Turkmenistan). Studies for the next 275 km (presumably the link to Tajikistan) would be completed in 2015.
  • The project could be completed in the next two years if the workers were provided with security and financial support.
  • The total project covers a 635 km route from Aqina near the border with Turkmenistan to Andkhoy, Sheberghan, Mazar-i-Sharif, Khulm, Kunduz and Shirkhan Bandar, ending at Kalkhor Abad (Kolkhozabad) in Tajikistan. This suggests that going via Shirkhan Bandar rather than a shorter route to the Tajik border is back on the agenda.

View Turkmenistan – Andkhoy railway plan in a larger map

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.”

ADB article on Mazar-i-Sharif railway construction project

The Asian Development Bank has published an article Innovative Project Management and Coordination Speed Up Afghanistan Railway Project. This describes how the Hairatan to Mazar-i-Sharif line was “completed in record time” – basically by building on existing plans, awarding a turnkey contact, and chucking plenty of money at it.

The January 2014 article, Issue 51 in ADB’s Knowledge Showcases series, is by Balabhaskara Reddy Bathula, senior transport specialist at ADB’s Central and West Asia Department. He was the project officer involved in the entire process, from technical assistance processing to construction and “operationalizing” of the line.

Worth a read.

Ministry of Public Works commissions railway study

Canarail and Appleton Consulting are to undertake a 12-month feasibility study which will look into extending the Hairatan to Mazar-i-Sharif railway around 225 km west to Sheberghan, Andkhoy and Aqina, and around 50 km northeast to the border with Tajikistan.

Railway Gazette story with more details:

Afghan government commissions east – west rail study

AFGHANISTAN: The Ministry of Public Works has commissioned a feasibility study for a proposed 300 km east – west railway across northern Afghanistan.

The C$3·7m contract announced on December 11 has been awarded to Systra’s Canadian freight railway consultancy Canarail and its partner Appleton Consulting Inc, which specialises in programme management for projects in Afghanistan.

[More at…]

The Canarail announcement:


Canadian Rail Specialist signs a contract with the Ministry of Public Works of Afghanistan

Montreal, CANADA, December 10, 2013 – CANARAIL’s President and CEO, Mr. Miguel Valero, is proud to announce, along with its Kabul-based partner Appleton Consulting Inc., the signing of a contract with the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to carry out a 300 km railway feasibility study in Northern Afghanistan. Funding for this project comes from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

Building on the conclusions and recommendations of ADB’s Railway Development Study and with the objective to extend the now operational Hairatan to Mazar-e-Sharif Railway, the Government contemplates the construction of a railway heading west from Mazar-e-Sharif through Sheberghan and Andkhoy to Acqina to link with Turkmenistan, and of another railway heading northeast from Mazar-e-Sharif to the border with Tajikistan.

If proved feasible, the extension of the existing railway in both east and west directions will foster cross border and regional trade, increase rail usage, ensure the viability of the initial railway investment, and introduce competition in rail operations.

“Afghanistan has a vast potential for developing the mineral extraction sector, which may be an engine of self-sustaining economic growth in the near future. The decision to award this study to CANARAIL is another demonstration that we stand as a strong and reliable source of expertise for railway matters all over the world. We are very proud to become  Afghanistan and Asian Development Bank’s partner in identifying long term solutions for rail transportation in Afghanistan and in the region and to act as a platform for economic growth.” said Mr. Valero who is just coming back from Kabul where he finalized the contract negotiations.

CANARAIL possesses a unique expertise in rail transport, with a strong focus on heavy haul and mining sectors. Its experts have participated in major projects on an international scale over the last 20 years, contributing to the completion of some of the most important railway projects worldwide.

Despite its vast international experience and track record in the provision of rail services, this is CANARAIL’s first significant gain in Afghanistan and in the region. This success was made possible by its partnership with Appleton Consulting Inc. (ACI), a Canadian firm specialized in programme management for Afghanistan-based projects.


Founded in 1991, CANARAIL is a CANADA-based rail consulting and engineering firm that specializes in mining, heavy haul freight, and urban domains. CANARAIL is known for its expertise in feasibility studies, consulting, detailed design, and the supervision of construction of major projects. Over the last 21 years, CANARAIL has participated in over 500 projects in Canada, the Middle East, Asia, Africa, North America, Australia, Europe, and Latin America. CANARAIL is headquartered in Montreal and is part of the French group SYSTRA, the world’s largest rail engineering organization.


Appleton Consulting Inc. (ACI) is an international business consulting company that focuses on enabling unique business solutions for emerging and developing market sectors. Getting its start in Afghanistan in 2007, Appleton has participated in $400M USD dollars worth of projects with its clients and partners.  Appleton has a wide range of services for its local and international clients including project management, design services, strategic partnership development, proposal writing, supply chain management, training, and environmental consulting services.

Source: Canarail press release, 10 December 2013.