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Afghanistan Launches the First Major Railway Service

Wednesday 21 December 2011

KABUL (Khaama Press) – Officials in the ministry of Public Works of Afghanistan on Wednesday announced the inauguration of the first major railway service in Afghanistan after the first train was on the newly built railway network in northern Afghanistan.

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Railway construction in Afghanistan
The new line will connect Afghanistan to Uzbekistan’s expansive rail network. The initial segment will run between Hairatan and Mazare-e-Sharif, Afghanistan’s second largest city. Future links are planned that will run across the north to other parts of the country and region, including Herat, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.
The Hairatan border post is the gateway for almost half of Afghanistan’s road imports, but the existing transport infrastructure cannot cope with expanding trade and humanitarian relief. The new rail line will remove the major bottlenecks that have formed at the border, quadrupling capacity and boosting regional trade.

The newly built railway line in northern Afghanistan is also believed to ease the supplies flow for the NATO-led international coalition forces in Afghanistan and besides will play a key role in trade to future trade in the region.

Noor Gul Mangal (نور گل منگل) Deputy Minister of Public Works in Afghanistan said, the first cargo-less train was tried on the newly built railway service line and chugged into northern city of Marzar-e-Sharif (مزار شریف) after completing a testing journey of 75 km from border with Uzbekistan. It is the first stage in a plan to link landlocked Afghanistan to its neighbours’ extensive railways.

Juan Miranda an economist at the Asian Development Bank said, the US $165 million US dollar line will release a bottleneck now holding up cargo.

In the meantime, a spokesman for US defence spokesman said, the railway will speed up supplies coming into American troops. The US recently shifted much of its supply line north from routes through Pakistan.

The Hairatan to Mazar-e-Sharif railway link is part of the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) Program. It fits with Transport Corridors 3 and 6, which connect Central Asia to South Asia and the region to the Caucasus and the Middle East. Although the road between Hairatan and Mazar-e-Sharif has been improved, it cannot meet national and regional traffic needs. A railway from Hairatan to Mazar-e-Sharif will:

  • improve links between Afghanistan and neighbouring countries, as well as nearby seaports;
  • develop an integrated transport network that caters for different cargo.

The existing Uzbek railway network stops at the border town of Hairatan. This is a gateway to Afghanistan, but it has reached its full capacity (4,000 tons of cargo per month). The flow of goods from Central Asia to Afghanistan will increase from 25,000 tons to 40,000 tons per month over the next few years. To prevent bottlenecks at the border, the existing Uzbek railway at Hairatan needed to be extended into Afghanistan, in a first intervention, to Mazar-e-Sharif. At a later stage, the railway network will be extended to Herat (هرات) in the west and Tajikistan in the east. The railway will service commercial and non-military cargo.

The project is a priority one for Afghanistan. It fits with its Railway Development Plan. It is closely linked to ADB’s Country Partnership Strategy for 2009-2013, which identifies the construction and rehabilitation of national roads and railways as a priority. It is also consistent with the CAREC Transport and Trade Facilitation Strategy.

Founded in 1997, CAREC is a partnership of eight countries: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, the People’s Republic of China, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan; and six multilateral institutions: ADB, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the International Monetary Fund, the Islamic Development Bank, the United Nations Development Programme, and the World Bank.

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