TASHKENT, Jan 5 (TCA,By Dilshod Ashurmatov) – Uzbekistan’s state joint-stock company O’zbekiston Temir Yo’llari (Uzbekistan Railways) has opened the Khairaton-Mazari-Sharif railway route in Afghanistan.
In November 2010, O’zbekiston Temir Yo’llari had completed the construction of the 75-kilometer Khairaton-Mazari-Sharif railway route. The construction cost of the railroad totaled $129 million and began in late 2009.
The project’s total cost of $180 million included not only the construction of the 75-kilometer railroad section, but also the reconstruction of a 21-kilometer, Termez-Khairaton, railroad section. This total cost includes the supply of locomotives and the construction of a freight terminal in Mazari-Sharif. The capacity of the new railway route is 9 million tons of cargo per year. The project was financed through a $165 million grant from Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the remaining $15 million allocated by the Afghan government.
In mid-December, the first train made a test run from the border of Uzbekistan. Thus, the first Afghan railway route, Khairaton-Mazari-Sharif, was officially opened. The opening of the new railway route became possible after the issues relating to the safety of trains, as well as the ratification of a number of legal documents relating to the maintenance of the road, had been resolved.
The annual income for the Uzbek company will be $32 million, regardless of traffic volume. If the annual volume of freight traffic reaches 2.2 million tons, the railway company will receive an additional payment of $1.5 million. If the traffic volume exceeds 2.2 million tons, the railway company will get $275,000 for each additional 100,000 tons.
Almost half of Afghanistan's imports are received through the Khairaton River Port, including a significant amount of humanitarian aid shipments. The commissioning of the railway route between Khairaton and Mazari-Sharif will help develop the Trans-Afghan railway corridor, which, in turn, will also facilitate an increase in transit along the new Tashguzar-Baisun-Kumkurgan railway line, which directly connects central Uzbekistan and the country's southern regions. This will, eventually, facilitate the expansion of Uzbek companies' export potentials.
Tashkent has already claimed its intention to take part in the construction of a new 100-kilometer Mazari-Sharif-Andhoi railroad worth $200 million in western Afghanistan. However, geopolitics may seriously interfere in Tashkent’s competitive struggle for new contracts and transit flows.
As for Afghanistan, it now has plans for the use of a multi-tranche ADB package, at a cost of $734 million, to develop the road infrastructure. In particular, the first tranche of $189 million will be directed to build a new railway section.
Back in May 2007, Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon offered to build a railroad to Iran. The proposed railroad would go through Kolkhozabad - Nizhniy Pyanj (Tajikistan) - Kunduz – Mazari-Sharif - Herat (Afghanistan) - Mashhad (Iran).
The proposal was supported by Iran, and now Iranian companies have built the western section of this route: Mashhad - Herat. This road should pass through Northern Afghanistan, connecting Tajikistan, particularly its south-western part, with the railway network of Iran.
In November 2010, a meeting, with the participation of Iran, Oman, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, was held in Tehran. The Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Transport of those countries stressed the need for further development of railway infrastructure on the route from southern ports of Iran to Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Thus, Uzbekistan’s decision to build the Khairaton-Mazari-Sharif Railroad is part of a major plan to develop a railroad network linking Central Asia to the Persian Gulf ports, and to connect to railways of Saudi Arabia.
Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan are building a joint railway that will link Kazakhstan and Iran on the shortest route - along the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea, bypassing Uzbekistan. This project is supported by Moscow, to which the project of a transit line Tashkent - Ashgabat – Bandar-Abbas with access to the Persian Gulf is guaranteed to put an end to the Russian ‘North-South’ project with transportations along the Caspian Sea. However, Moscow will lose some control over the traffic flows, and hence political influence in the region, believes the analyst Dilmurad Kholmatov.
All these projects on transport corridors involve significant investments and fundamental change of transport infrastructure in Central Asia. "These projects are not hopelessly contradicted with each other, but there is no coordination between the parties right now,” said Michael Emerson, Senior Fellow at the European Policy Studies Center. “It requires optimization of all existing projects.”
In the long run, the route through Central Asia that connects more countries to Mid-East ports, and is more cost-efficient for imports/exports, will control the most intense international traffic flows between Europe and Southeast Asia.