Railway link between Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Iran

In a historic ceremony Saturday, President Berdymuhamedov of Turkmenistan used a gold-plated spanner to bolt together two sections of rails, marking the formal start of construction of railway link between Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Iran. 

Bereket, formerly known as Kazanjyk, a small town in the Balkan province of western Turkmenistan where the ceremony took place, is the centre point where the railway lines coming from Kazakhstan and Iran would meet. It is about 300 kilometers west of Ashgabat.

Kazakhstan’s acting minister for transport and communication, Jenis Kasymbekov, Iranian minister for road and transportation, Mohammad Rahmati, and director of Iran railways, Hassan Ziyari were present in the ceremony.

As Berdymuhamedov put it, the 700-km railway line would provide more than a dozen countries with convenient access to the Persian Gulf and European markets.

He underlined that politics should defer to economy.

The new railway line would start from Uzen in Kazakhstan and terminate at Gurgen in Iran. The line would follow the Uzen-Gyzylgaya-Bereket-Etrek-Gorgen route.

It is expected that the rail link would be ready for service by December 2011. However, the authorities said that it could be completed as early as December 2010.

The tripartite agreement for construction of the railway link was signed by Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Iran on 16 October in Tehran on the sidelines of the second Caspian summit.

The initial load capacity of the linen would be 5 million tons of cargo annually, to be expanded up to 12 million tons by 2012.

In addition to cargo, the rail link is expected to handle passengers also.

A railway official said that cargo from the railway stations Astrahan-Makat-Beyneu-Yeraliyevo-Turkmenbashy-Bereket-Gurgen (Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Iran) will be delivered to the sea ports of Persian Gulf. This route will decrease the expenses and the time of transportation of cargo and of passengers, he said.

The railway link – part of the broader North-South corridor concept – would make Turkmenistan a hub of cargo and passenger movement in north-south and east-west directions.

The rail link would also be instrumental in exploiting the non-hydrocarbon resources of Turkmenistan at Garabogazgol and Gyzylgaya.

Mekan Annayev, head of the technical department of Turkmen railways, said that Turkmenistan has the capacity to build the railway line from its own sources.

By some estimates, Turkmenistan has the machinery and equipment to build 100 kilometers of railway line a year.

Before performing the opening ceremony, President Berdymuhamedov signed a decree to clear any bureaucratic hurdles from the way of the project.

According to the decree, land would be provided free of cost for laying the railway line. Turkmenistan has declared it a priority project with political and economic significance.

The presidential decree asks the ministry of railways to coordinate with all the local and foreign contractors and suppliers.

A high power committee consisting of Reshit Meredov, first deputy prime minister and foreign minister, deputy prime minister G Ashyrov, deputy prime minister N Shaguliyev, deputy prime minister Tachberdy Gagiyev, minister of railways, D Muhammetguliyev governor of Balkan province, O Niyazliyev and chairman of the supreme regulatory chamber, T Japarov, has been formed to oversee the project.

The cost of the project has not been disclosed but looking at the past experience of such projects in Turkmenistan, the new railway line could cost somewhere around US $ 1.5 billion.

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