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.”

100 000th container on the NDN

Celebration of the 100,000th Container along the NDN

June 11, 2013

On June 11th, Ambassador McCarthy visited Riga Free Port to participate in a celebration of the 100,000th container to pass through the Northern Distribution Network, which includes Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, to Afganistan, organized U.S. Embassy in Riga, in cooperation with the Latvian MFA and Ministry of Transport.

Among the senior diplomats present at the event were U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Lynne Tracy, the U.S. Ambassadors to Latvia Mark Pekala, Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics,Latvian Minister of Transportation Anrijs Matiss as well as other U.S. military officials.

Initially activated in 2009, the route has brought more than 2 million tons of nonlethal equipment through ports in the Baltic nations of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia and then overland into Afghanistan to support operations. The route traverses the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, the Black Sea, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan before reaching Afghanistan.

The route was created as an alternate way to move supplies into Afghanistan instead of depending on a single route through Pakistan. It is one of the longest lines of military supply lines ever created, according to U.S. Army Col. Matthew Redding, commander of the 598th Transportation Brigade in Sembach, Germany. His unit coordinates the logistical effort through U.S. Transportation Command’s Surface Deployment and Distribution Command.

“The 100,000th container is not the story, that is simply a number,” said Col. Redding. “What is really important is the Baltic cooperation and the ability to link it to our foreign policy as it relates to the entire region.”

The route requires close cooperation between not only nations but U.S. Transportation Command, U.S. Army Europe, the U.S. State Department and its embassies, as well as the commercial entities that contract for the transport.

“It represents cooperation amongst our agencies in the U.S,” said Ambassador McCarthy. “The DoD and Department of State cooperation has been vital in the last few years. It’s also a celebration of our ability to work with foreign governments thinking about not only a common cause in Afghanistan, but about the future of Central Asia.”

The ceremony also set the stage for a conference June 12 in Riga discussing the future of the network as a means for withdrawing equipment from Afghanistan as 2014 approaches, and the expansion of the route for commercial purposes.

“We are trying to create, on the basis of the Northern Distribution Network, a whole new way of thinking about transportation and logistics in this region,” said Ambassador Pekala. “Latvia and the other Baltic states could be the center of what they call a new Silk Road … a 21st-century logistics and transportation hub. This represents how that can be achieved working together on the basis of free enterprise, democracy and cooperation.”
Source: Embassy of the United States, Lithuania

Not like the WWII Persian Corridor, where the volume of traffic was censored!

Border checks at Hayratan

TEM2 locomotive at Hayratan in Afghanistan

Members of the Afghan National Border Police listen to an instructor as they search locomotive TEM2 6773 near the Hayratan border crossing point (Photo: DVIDS, 2011-01-10).

Ready, CET, Go! A new training program begins at Afghan border

HAIRATAN, Afghanistan — Recently, soldiers of the Military Police “Mohawk” Platoon of 10th Mountain Division’s 1st Brigade Special Troops Battalion in conjunction with the Border Management Task Force trained members of Afghan National Border Police for a Contraband Enforcement Team at the Friendship Bridge border crossing in northern Afghanistan.

[Lots more]

Source: DVIDS press release, 2011-01-16

Press conference on US-Uzbek relations

Press Conference

Robert O. Blake, Jr. Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
U.S. Embassy Atrium, Tashkent, Uzbekistan
February 18, 2011

Assistant Secretary Blake: […] I noted that the Unites States highly values Uzbekistan’s support for international efforts in Afghanistan, including allowing the transit of non-lethal supplies for NATO troops in Afghanistan, the provision of electricity to Afghanistan, and the construction of a railway line from Hairaton to Mazar-e Sharif.

Question: Are you looking at the possibility of transporting military supplies through Uzbekistan?

Assistant Secretary Blake: The supplies that are transiting through Uzbek territory are all non-lethal supplies. Once again I would like to express the appreciation of the United States for the Government of Uzbekistan’s support in this regard.


Question: What can you say about the Northern Distribution Network? And do you have any statistics on how many containers, how many tons of cargo have moved through Uzbekistan? And another question is – how much is the government of Uzbekistan paid for the transit of one container?

Assistant Secretary Blake: I’m afraid this is a bit too detailed for a non-specialist like me. I suggest you contact the Central Command. They might be able to provide some of that information. But I’m flattered that you think I might know that.

Source: US State Department, 2011-02-18

Northern Distribution Network in action

Northern route eases supplies to US forces in Afghanistan at The International Institute For Strategic Studies. With a map, and a graph of container traffic.

Some interesting snippets:

  • Moving supplies via the northern rail route costs approximately 10% of the cost of movement by air.
  • NATO has also begun using the NDN. The first trial shipment of NATO cargo, consisting of 27 containers of construction materials and food supplies, departed from Riga, Latvia, in May 2010. Russia had offered transit to NATO at the Alliance’s 2008 Bucharest summit, but it was not until 2009 that NATO began negotiating transit rights with Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, and these talks took almost a year to complete.
  • [The Termez to Hairatan railway] has reached its handling capacity of 4,000 tonnes of cargo per month. Until upgrades are completed, this border crossing is likely to remain a choke point. Meanwhile, railway experts have questioned whether the existing rail route through Uzbekistan is capable of handling the amount of traffic envisioned by the US military and its allies.

Problems with transport in Uzbekistan

A EurasiaNet article by Deirdre Tynan discussing “a morass of inefficiency, arbitrariness and “informal” payments” in Uzbekistan.

Documents Highlight Problems with Uzbek Corridor of Afghan Supply Route

June 28, 2010

Responses to a Pentagon-issued request for information about sourcing fuel in Uzbekistan appear to suggest that the Uzbek-Afghan corridor of the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) is a morass of inefficiency, arbitrariness and “informal” payments.

In documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), respondents to the Pentagon query made stark comments about severe delays at the Uzbek-Afghan border, and one – a major partner to USAID in Afghanistan – said corrupt payments “might be required to keep business moving.”

The NDN is a supply line for troops serving in Afghanistan spanning Europe, Russia and Central Asia. It was developed by US Transportation Command, US Central Command, Defense Logistics Agency, and the State Department, in conjunction with a variety of regional commercial and governmental actors. [For background see EurasiaNet’s archive [1]].

In August of 2009, the Defense Energy Support Center (DESC) solicited preliminary procurement evaluations from commercial companies in a query titled “Sources sought within the Republic of Uzbekistan for Products and Services in Support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).” The query specifically sought information covering possible diesel, motor fuel and aviation fuel supplies.

According to the FOIA request submitted by EurasiaNet.org, eight companies responded to the DESC query. But only six responses were made available to EurasiaNet.org under the FOIA. Two responses, one from FMN International, the parent company of FMN Logistics, a firm that has strenuously denied any financial connections with the disgraced Uzbek conglomerate Zeromax, and another from NCS Fuels, were deemed “un-releasable.” [For background see EurasiaNet’s archive [2]].

One response – from Milio International Ltd, a company working in the fuel business in the former Soviet Union since 1997 – contended that “Uzbek Railways frequently (often for some period of time each month) bans all rail traffic going to the destination of Hairaton, Afghanistan. This is due to the thousands of rail cars both empty and full of all types of goods that have congested the rail stations for the past year while waiting to get to Afghanistan […] this is especially the case around the Termez and Karshi areas.”

Rail cars from the Baltic states and Russia also get “blocked from time-to-time,” the Milio response noted.

Meanwhile, Afghan Management Group (AMG) said rail transport from Bukhara, Uzbekistan, to Hairaton “with no ‘speed up fee’ takes up to 35 days.” But with “payment of informal fees, the time can be reduced to 7 to 18 days, (depending on amount of money paid).”

When asked to describe “the known impacts related to fuel specifications, taxes, transit leases/approvals, other local laws and challenges you may expect to face,” AMG outlined the payment of “informal fees” as a major challenge in Uzbekistan.

“Apart from refinery fees and transport costs, there are no taxes to be paid in Uzbekistan. However, payment of informal fees to authorities and individuals might be required to keep business moving,” the AMG response said.

“One of the biggest problems in both countries involved is the fact that rules are changing overnight and very frequently. To cope with this issue requires good contacts to authorities and flexibility to adapt own processes to a new situation,” the AMG response added. “AMG/Partner is very reluctant to pay bribes, but manages issues through established good relationship to authorities involved.”

AMG is listed as an “implementing partner” to USAID in Afghanistan. According to both USAID and AMG’s websites, “AMG is a leading firm supporting the reconstruction of developing nations, like Afghanistan, while promoting economic growth and higher living standards among the people of those nations.”

In another DESC response, Agility, one of Defense Logistics Agency’s top-100 contractors, said fuel trucks could be used as an alternative to the “normal delays” experienced at the Termez-Hairaton railway crossing.

“Government taxes and leases will always present challenges,” the Agility response added. However, initial talks with “government and commercial officials” signal that “they are willing to work with the United States to find suitable business arrangements.”

FMN, a firm that did not have its response to the Pentagon query released, reportedly maintained a strong relationship with Zeromax. According to a document available from the American-Uzbekistan Chamber of Commerce’s website, FMN Logistics purported to be capable of carrying out “rail cargo operations coordinated out of Tashkent using Zeromax Rail Code.” [For background click here [3]].

“Based on local presence, FMN Logistics and Zeromax Logistics transit times into and through Uzbekistan are half those of major shippers […] FMN Customs brokerage clearance services can cut Uzbek transit times in half,” the company asserted.

According to FMN’s website, “FMN was formed on 8 September 1999 as a domestic US corporation. The shareholders were, and remain its founder, Harry F. Eustace, Sr. and members of his family.”

“In 2009, FMN formed a subsidiary, FMN Logistics, with Harry F. Eustace, Jr. as its CEO and whose shareholders are the Eustace family plus David O’Connor, a Canadian citizen. FMN Logistics’ prime mission is to serve the US war fighter in Afghanistan by providing effective logistics solutions throughout the Central Asian Theater,” the website added.

The NDN carries 30 percent of goods delivered to US troops in Afghanistan, according to a White House statement on June 24.

Copyright (c) 2010 Open Society Institute. Reprinted with the permission of the Open Society Institute, 400 West 59th Street, New York, NY 10019 USA, wwwEurasiaNet.org

US ambassador at Hayratan

Hairatan Rail Line
U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry joined the president of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Minister of Finance, Minister of Mines, Minister of Transportation and Civil Aviation, and fellow Ambassadors from Japan, Finland, and Uzbekistan at a ribbon-cutting ceremony inaugurating the Hairatan Rail Line. Hairatan is located in the Balk Provience. This rail link is the first phase of a larger rail network planned for the country, including links to Herat, Tajikistan and Pakistan, and improves connectivity and increase trade throughout the region, supporting growth and cutting poverty.
Source: American Embassy Kabul on Flickr

May 25, 2010: U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry Remarks at Hairatan Rail Line Ceremony

On May 25, U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry joined the president of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Minister of Finance, Minister of Mines, Minister of Transportation and Civil Aviation, and fellow Ambassadors from Japan, Finland, and Uzbekistan at a ribbon-cutting ceremony inaugurating the Hairatan Rail Line. The United States and Japan are the two largest shareholders in ADB. An ADB grant supports the construction of a 75 km railway line between Hairatan, on the border with Uzbekistan, and Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan’s second largest commercial center. The project will also upgrade Hairatan station yard, build a transshipment terminal, and prepare a railway sector plan. ADB’s grant covers 97% of the total project cost of $170 million, with the Government contributing $5 million. This rail link is the first phase of a larger rail network planned for the country, including links to Herat, Tajikistan and Pakistan, and improves connectivity and increase trade throughout the region, supporting growth and cutting poverty. The new rail line will help remove the major physical bottlenecks that have formed at the border, thereby quadrupling capacity and boosting regional trade.

The Ambassador’s remark’s at the ceremony inaugurating the rail line follow:

Remarks to ADB Ceremony Audience

• Thank you Governor Atta, President Kuroda, and Ministers Zakhilwal and Shahrani.

• The United States and Japan are the two largest shareholders in the Asian Development Bank. We, along with other ADB member nations represented here today have followed this Hairatan Rail Project grant funding closely from its genesis and have supported it strongly via our representation on the ADB’s Board of Directors.

• I am very pleased to see the project reach this point, with construction begun and an end-date planned in advance of the December 2010 completion target. It is my sincere hope to return to Balkh province with President Karzai and others on this stage soon to celebrate the completion of this signature infrastructure project.

• The United States, the ADB, and other members of the international donor community recognized early on that the rehabilitation and expansion of Afghanistan’s transportation infrastructure — roads, airports, and now rail – were a vital component of the Afghan National Development Strategy.

• ADB President Kuroda and others have spoken to you about the economic opportunity and promise that this project offers to Balkh province, to Afghanistan’s northern region, and to the nation as a whole. This is true and very important.

• Following the successful efforts of the Afghan Government, in cooperation with international donor community and international investors, to rebuild other key components of Afghanistan’s basic infrastructure — including the North East Power System, all but a small remaining portion of the Ring Road, and the nation’s world-class telecommunications infrastructure — what the project represents to me is yet another affirmation that large and complex infrastructure projects supported by Afghanistan’s national and provincial governments can be successfully planned and executed. This is part of the process of restoring peace and prosperity to this great Nation.

• In addition to these critical infrastructure projects, the U.S. Embassy has plans to deploy mentors to the Mazar, who will mentor at both the EU customs facility in Haraitan and the Inland Customs Depot. At the request of the Customs Director of Sher Khan Bandar, our Border Management Task Force has began the process of acquiring land at Sher Khan Bandar (SKB), to facilitate deployment of mentors at the Kunduz Inland Customs Depot, and the SKB Border Crossing Point.

• The promise that this Hairatan rail link can be extended east to Kunduz and west to Herat offers hope to visionaries like Minister Zakhiwal and Minister Shahrani — and to all Afghan citizens — that Afghanistan can once again resume its place as a Silk Road crossroads and regional transportation hub. This is all reason celebrate this important day.

Source: Embassy of the United States, Kabul, Afghanistan 2010-05-25

Problems with the Northern Supply Network

EurasiaNet has an interesting report by Deirdre Tynan, a freelance journalist specialising in Central Asian affairs, which discusses problems with the US plan to supply military forces in Afghanistan by rail from the north. I’ve highlighted some key bits.

The report includes a quote from David Brice, a international railway consultant who was in Afghanistan in 2005 working on a capacity increase and re-equipment study for freight lines.

One puzzling thing is the reference by a Russian Railways spokesman to the widening [of the narrow gauge tracks] at Galaba-Hairaton on the Uzbek-Afghan border. As the Soviet-built railway tracks at Hayratan in Afghanistan are only connected to wider world via the bridge with Uzbekistan, it seems pretty unlikely that the tracks are anything other than the 1520 mm broad gauge used across the former USSR and into some neighbouring countries. There would be little point in having built just the terminal to standard (1435 mm) or even a true narrow gauge.


Deirdre Tynan 7/23/09

The Northern Distribution Network, an American-assembled logistical pipeline designed to ease and expand the flow of supplies to coalition forces in Afghanistan, is off to a lackluster start.

The land routes for the delivery of non-military goods from Europe to Afghanistan via Central Asia provided just over 250 containers between June 5 and July 14. That total is far short of the number originally envisioned by military planners. During a Senate hearing in March, Gen. Duncan McNabb, the head of TRANSCOM, the military’s transport wing, predicted that the NDN would transport “hundreds of containers” per day.

The existing rail route, which begins in Riga, Latvia, and ends at border points in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, appears to be experiencing bottlenecks and other problems. On June 5, TRANSCOM officials told EurasiaNet, “We have shipped roughly 750 containers of construction material and other general supplies for US forces in Afghanistan through the NDN, which includes the original ’proof of concept’ shipment of about 200 containers. ”

“With the appropriate transit agreements in place, the US Transportation Command began using existing rail and road infrastructure in mid-May,” the Transcom statement added. “It is important to note that no additional construction was necessary and the NDN utilizes commercial companies from origination to destination.”

On July 14, TRANSCOM said, “For obvious operational security reasons, we cannot provide geographic and time-sensitive specifics of moving military cargo. But to update information previously provided, the US has shipped more than 1,000 containers of non-lethal cargo, such as construction materials and other general supplies, along the Northern Distribution Network.”

In June and July, according to publicly available data, only seven containers a day on average were arriving in Afghanistan via the NDN. A commercial source, speaking on condition of anonymity, characterized the performance as “ridiculous.” Railway experts have also questioned whether the Uzbek rail route, which crosses the Afghan border at Termez-Hairaton, is capable of handling the amount of traffic envisioned by the US military and its allies.

David Brice, an international rail consultant who made recommendations on upgrading the capacity of Hairatan two years ago, said the depot remains under-equipped to deal with a large volume of traffic. “There will certainly be a capacity problem in the Termez-Hairatan section, which two years ago was handling its full capacity of three or four trains daily without the US traffic,” Brice said.

“Three-quarters of the terminal area was disused and the working area very badly equipped for its task,” he told EurasiaNet in an interview. “The ideal route for this traffic would be deep sea via Bandar Abbas and the new Iranian rail line being built from Sangan to Herat. It’s a massive problem, though, due to the current political tension between the United States and Iran.”

Given the complexities of overland operations, an air-transit deal for arms and military equipment, struck by Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow in early July, appears to be an important breakthrough. However, America’s partners in the region say similar arrangements with the United States have not been negotiated.

Daniyar Mukataev, a spokesman for the Kazakh Ministry of Transport and Communications said, “There are no agreements or talks between Kazakhstan and the United States on the transit of military cargoes through the territory of Kazakhstan. After reaching agreement with Russia, they now have to talk with Kazakhstan and then with Uzbekistan on the transit of military cargoes. But for the moment the agreement with Russia is just empty words.”

When EurasiaNet asked the US State Department if attempts were being made to secure military transit agreements with the Central Asian states, the press office did not respond directly to the question, referring instead to Under Secretary of State William Burn’s remarks publicized during his early July trip to Central Asia. Burns told reporters in Ashgabat, Astana, Bishkek and Tashkent, that Washington looked forward to “new ways of working together.”

Some regional observers suggest the United States may have underestimated the complexities, both political and logistical, of establishing the NDN. “We have to realize that this network implies crossing of the borders of several states and every transit country is looking out for its own material interests,” said Andrei Grozin, the director of the Central Asia Department at the CIS Institute in Moscow.

“Frankly speaking, this is one of the main reasons why the system is not set up properly and not working well,” Grozin continued. “There are of course objective reasons such as the complexity of the system itself. But, mostly it’s all about the borders, the financial interests of the transit countries, and corruption in these countries.”

Central Asian leaders publicly express concern about the security threats originating from Afghanistan, but, although they don’t say so openly, the NDN is also seen as a lucrative opportunity, Grozin said. “The United States understands that for solving its geopolitical and other problems, it has to pay,” he added.

But many experts are asking: is Washington overpaying? Several indicators would seem to suggest that the Pentagon’s tendency to throw money at the problem is not producing desired results. Not only is the rail network not delivering as expected, financially speaking it’s shaping up as something of a boondoggle.

Russian and Uzbek companies are reorganizing their structures to take maximum advantage of the Pentagon’s commercial approach to the NDN. In a move designed to get the network up and running quickly, defense officials eased tender rules to allow for lucrative contracts to be granted with no competitive oversight. That has seemed to stimulate a feeding frenzy among regional transport entities.

Russian Railways, for example, has confirmed to EurasiaNet that it is seeking a grant from the US government to upgrade the Termez-Galaba-Hairaton border crossing between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.

A spokesperson for Russian Railways said on July 9, “We can confirm that Russian Railways seriously addresses the issue of modernization at Galaba-Hairaton on the Uzbek-Afghan border to transit American goods from Riga [Latvia] to the border with Afghanistan. Also, a proposal was sent to Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia on the need to involve US participation in the financing of the widening [of the narrow gauge tracks] at Galaba-Hairaton on the Uzbek-Afghan border.”

Neither the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs nor the US State Department would elaborate on the information provided by Russian Railways.

Source:Eurasia Insight 2009-07-23

[Copyright © 2009 Open Society Institute. Reprinted with the permission of the Open Society Institute, 400 West 59th Street, New York, NY 10019 USA, www.EurasiaNet.org]

Russia allows lethal goods transit to Afghanistan

Among the agreements announced by Presidents Obama and Medvedev on 6 July is one for the transit through Russia of “lethal” military supplies bound for the armed forces in Afghanistan.

Could this be a breakthough in rail transport? “Non lethal” military freight has reportedly been sent by train via Russia and Uzbekistan to Hayratan this year. Germany already has an agreement to ship lethal materials by rail through Russia – though Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan were less keen on allowing transit, and it is unclear if any has actually been transported.


…we intend to make active use of the transit route through the territory of the Russian Federation for deliveries of property and equipment for the needs of the international forces operating in Afghanistan

We express our willingness to explore issues related to Russian-U.S. interaction and cooperation in restoring the transportation, energy, and industrial infrastructure of Afghanistan.
Source: Whitehouse.gov press release 2009-07-06


PRESIDENT MEDVEDEV: The subject of U.S.-Russian cooperation in Afghanistan is extremely important. It is for this reason we paid so much attention to the discussion of this problem, and we have just signed an agreement that concerns transit. It’s an important subject and we will of course continue cooperation with our American counterparts.

As concerns the current situation, it is — really is not simple. I am not trying to say that it is being worsens, but in many aspects the progress is not available or is insignificant. But we value the efforts that are being made by the United States together with the other countries in order to prevent the terrorist threat that was emanating and still coming from the Afghan soil.

We are prepared in this sense to a full-scale cooperation with our U.S. and other partners, including in transit areas. We are prepared to help in the various aspects. I don’t know to what extent — how quickly the situation will improve. It depends to a large extent to the development of the political system in Afghanistan, to what extent the Afghan government will achieve successes in the economy — and it’s not a simple task.


And we’re going to have to think regionally in terms of how we approach these problems. Obviously there are countries along the border of Afghanistan and Central Asia that are of deep strategic importance, and it’s very important that we also include them in these conversations about how we can move forward.

But I just want to thank again the Russian government for the agreement for military transit. That will save U.S. troops both time and money. And it’s I think a gesture that indicates the degree to which, in the future, Russian-U.S. cooperation can be extraordinarily important in solving a whole host of these very important international issues.
Source: Whitehouse.gov press conference transcript 2009-07-06