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The Kazakhstani Part of the (New) Silk (Rail)Way

by serik berik Wed Mar 22nd, 2006 at 09:34:30 PM EST

As I have promised (again), here's my contribution to the thread on the Eurasian transcontinental railway project.

A bit late but not too off-topic.

I knew from the start of my web research on this subject that the right information was to be found on the website of our railway monopolist Qazaqstan Temir Zholy* (which, unfortunately, is mostly in Russian).

*Qazaqstan Temir Zholy - Kазакстан темiр жолы - is "Kazakhstan Railway" in our language.

The following is my tentative translation of the things that I managed to find. The blame for any inaccuracies and mistakes is mine.

From the strategy section:

The Trans-Kazakhstani Trunk Railway with the gauge width of 1435 mm

Under the present conditions of economic globalization, the importance of the development of Eurasian transcontinental railway corridors is increasing.

According to the IMF experts' estimates, the commodity trade between Asia and Europe constitutes USD600 billion annually, with this figure to grow 1.5 times by the year of 2010. Today, the transportation of goods is largely undertaken by the sea route via the Suez Canal. The perspective increase in commodity trade between Europe and Asia creates the necessary preconditions for the partial re-orientation of the freight flow from sea to railway routes. That is why the importance of international land transportation is steadily growing.

Moreover, the current world trade growth, together with the observable lack of existent transport corridors, dictates that new ones are created for the international freight flows and that the accompanying technological processes are simplified. The territorial characteristics and the infrastructure of the Republic of Kazakhstan allow for the building of a transport corridor that would provide the transcontinental connection between South-Eastern Asia and Europe.

The disadvantages of the existent corridors:

  • the historic differences in the railway gauge width between the territories of the CIS and Europe, Asia, and the Middle East;
  • the Dostyk-Alashankou trans-border passage capacity is not sufficient for the rates of increase in freight flows;
  • the passage capacity of the Suez Canal is practically exhausted;
  • the limited capacities of the European freight-processing sea ports;
  • the alternative to the Suez Canal route around the African continent significantly increases the periods and costs of the transportation of goods by sea.
  • With respect to these considerations, The National Company Qazaqstan Temir Zholy jsc has developed a plan of construction of the TKTR in the direction from railway station Dostyk to the Turkmenistan state border, with the possible continuation of this railway route in the future through the territory of Turkmenistan and its connection with the 1435 mm-gauge railway system of the Islamic Republic of Iran and exit at the European markets via Turkey.


    According to primary estimation, the introduction of the TKTR into use will create the following freight flows:

  • transit connection - up to 35 mln t's, export connection - up to 20 mln t's;
  • between the countries of Asia and Europe - total sum of USD7 bln annually;
  • between China, Iran, and Turkey (consumer goods, production of mechanical engineering, construction materials, timber, fertilizers) - total sum of USD2 bln annually;
  • between Russia and the Middle East countries (metallurgical production, construction materials, timber, fertilizers) - total sum of USD1 bln annually.
  • [...] According to preliminary evaluation, the length of the trunk railway from station Dostyk via Central Kazakhstan to the Turkmenistan state border will be 3083 km. Estimated cost of the project - USD3.5 bln. [USD4.5 bln here, USD5 bln here] Estimated construction period - 2005-2010.

    The construction of the transcontinental trunk railway calls for substantial investments of capital. In view of the international nature and the scale of this project, its realization through the establishment of an international consortium is being considered.

    To involve private capital in the project, the intention is to use the experience of western states in the use of concession mechanisms in the sphere of the creation and management of infrastructure. [The realization of the project is] at the expense of the `concessioner' [NB: this term is of my own invention] who thus acquires the right of the exploitation of the establishment for the period of recoupment of his investment. At the end of this period, the establishment is submitted to the control of the state without indemnity.

    The results of the preliminary work:

    1. The negotiations with the relevant ministries of the CPR, Turkey, and Iran have been accomplished.
    2. The project has been presented to the government officials, financial representatives, representatives of transport companies and other businesses in China (Beijing, Hong Kong), Great Britain, Iran, Turkey, etc.
    3. The framework agreement between the Ministry of Transport and Telecommunications of the Republic of Kazakhstan and the Ministry of Railways of the People's Republic of China on cooperation in the TKTR construction project is in the final stages of conclusion.
    4. An open tender on the development of technical-economic substantiation of the TKTR has been carried out, which resulted in the signing of the contract for the evaluation of the project's profitability and competitiveness with Tynyshpayev Kazakh Academy of Transport and Communications.

    In an interview about the TKTR, Ermek Kizatov - the president of the project - said,

    At the same time there are some difficulties in the realization of the project, such as the complexities of the political situation in the Middle East region, the poor condition and low carrying capacity of Iranian railroads, and the technical problems and the need of significant investments of Turkish railroads.

    And when asked about the feasibility of the project, in the light of the existence of a "trans-" railroad in Russia and other factors, he noticed,

    Surely, a route through the territory of Russia, the Ukraine, or Belarus for the TKTR would be shorter and more rational. And we do not exclude this option. However, it is important to keep in mind that Russia is very interested in using the Trans-Siberian trunk railway to its full capacity and that she sees the TKTR as its competitor. The TKTR, at the same time, does not have the competition with the Trans-Sib as its object, but aims at the promising freight volumes coming from Western China and at the freight diverted partially from the existent sea routes.

    In my opinion, the grand enterprise is worth the try. In any case, it makes economic sense and does promise the delivery of the incentives for greater stability in the (admittedly) troublesome region.

    For more info on the New Silk Way, go here. This is a commentary to a slideshow ... which is not there for some reason. Sorry about that.

    I still find it useful, though. To understand what the story is about, use these maps. I have translated two of them for you, the other being in English initially (thank God). Click on the images for better resolution.

    The present railway system in Kazakhstan:

    "The Napoleonic Plan":

    For some reason I find the idea of these long distance railways terribly romantic. Possibly because it means there might be a way for me to travel and see the world in a decade or three if air travel can't be fixed.
    by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Mar 23rd, 2006 at 03:23:39 AM EST
    I wonder if these railways will carry passenger traffic in the foreseeable future... Although I agree that traveling by land is a much better experience than when you take the air shortcuts.

    And sure, if you haven't been to our region before, it should be among your top priorities in life! :) Qymyz (the horse milk alcoholic drink) and qazaqsha yet (a Kazakh traditional dish) are by themselves worth the visit. (However, I ought to warn the European mountain-lovers - which, strangely for me, most of you are - that Kazakhstan is mainly a flat land. Really.)

    As for me, I hate long train rides. Them being the main way of getting around Kazakhstan, I am tired of trains, honestly.

    A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government -- Edward Abbey

    by serik berik (serik[dot]berik on Gmail) on Thu Mar 23rd, 2006 at 06:03:48 AM EST
    [ Parent ]
    The question is whether the air shortcuts will be available in the future...
    by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Mar 23rd, 2006 at 06:10:34 AM EST
    [ Parent ]
    Thanks for this!

    the poor condition and low carrying capacity of Iranian railroads, and the technical problems and the need of significant investments of Turkish railroads

    This primarily concerns Eastern Turkey and the Iranian lines to the Turkish and Turkemen borders.

    As I indicated in my diary, in Western Turkey there is significant improvement until 2010 (the Ankara-Istambul line is upgraded with French help as a 250 km/h electrified mixed-traffic double-track line until 2008 [+ I'd count a few years' delay], West of Ankara the first sections of line are well-built); while Iran recently finished the grand upgrade of its Eastern Tehran-Mashhad mainline, and upgrades to the West too.

    *Lunatic*, n.
    One whose delusions are out of fashion.

    by DoDo on Thu Mar 23rd, 2006 at 04:37:20 AM EST
    West of Ankara the first sections of line are well-built

    East of Ankara.

    *Lunatic*, n.
    One whose delusions are out of fashion.

    by DoDo on Thu Mar 23rd, 2006 at 06:12:24 AM EST
    [ Parent ]

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