Sunday, October 4, 2009

New Afghan Rail Freight Link Gets Funding

Promises to be important step to opening up freight in Central Asia
Shipping News Feature

AFGHANISTAN – Uzbek Railways (UTY) is to begin construction of a rail link from the Uzbek border to Mazar-i-Sharif after the Asian Development Bank (ABD) announced that it is to grant US$165m towards the project. UTY will also be responsible for maintaining and operating the line.

The single-track line, which is scheduled for completion in 2011, will connect to the existing rail freight terminal at Hairatan on the Afghan side of the border. The line will be capable of carrying double-stacked containers which will radically improve the terminal's efficiency by removing the need to unload trains from Uzbekistan onto trucks for onward transport.

Hairatan already, according to the ADB, is the gateway for almost half of Afghanistan’s imports and much of its humanitarian relief goods, and the organisation believes that, with future improvements to infrastructure, Afghanistan has the potential to play a key role as a transit route in Central Asia for goods going to ports in Pakistan and the Caspian, and onwards to South and East Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

Balabhaskara Reddy Bathula, Transport Specialist with ADB’s Central and West Asia Department, says that: “This line will boost freight volumes, lower costs, raise the profile of Afghanistan as a transit route, and complement two major transport corridors being developed under the Central Asia Regional Cooperation Program (CAREC).”

The CAREC plan will see further rail links developed to Herat in the west, to Pakistan in the South and to Tajikstan in the east. Iran is already building to Herat which will then link into the broader Central Asian network.

The ADB’s grant covers 97% of the total project cost of $170 million, with the Afghan Government contributing a further $5 million.