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Beijing Endorses Central Asian Rail Plan, Claims Kyrgyzstan

Wednesday 6 February 2013

BISHKEK (Kabar, bne) – The Chinese government has confirmed that it finally goes ahead with construction of the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway, Kyrgyzstan’s Deputy Prime Minister Tayirbek Sarpashev announced on February 5.

Returning from a visit to Beijing, Sarpashev told a Bishkek press conference that Chinese officials had reaffirmed their intention to go ahead with the $2 bln project, Kabar reports. “After the feasibility study the sides will begin development of action plan, including raising funds,” the official said.

Speaking to IRJ in Astana this week, Kyrgyzstan Railways’ (KTZ) director general Argyhbek Malabaev declared that the railway is aiming to complete a final comprehensive feasibility study by the end of 2013 for a new cross-country electrified line that will open up the country to transit traffic between China, the Persian Gulf and Europe. He said that he hopes that construction of the new line which is estimated the cut the distance by rail between China and Europe by 900 km, can begin in 2014. Malabaev said that the plan is to offer an alternative to similar transit corridors through Kazakhstan and Russia.

The project consists of 264 km of new lines to expand the country’s existing 467 km network and was first initiated in 1996 after China decided to construct the South Xinjiang Railway from Korla to Kashgar. A new feasibility study for the strategic regional route was completed in January 2013. It is now being translated from Chinese into Russian, and is due to be submitted to the Kyrgyz and Uzbek governments within the next few weeks.

The planned railway will run from the Chinese market town of Kashagar across Kyrgyzstan, and enter Uzbekistan near Kara-Suu – Kyrgyzstan’s second largest bazaar – to connect to the main Uzbek rail network at Andijan. The railway will make it easier to transport Chinese consumer goods to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, as well as for China to import raw materials from both Central Asian countries.

The route has not been finalised; in particular discussions about whether it will run through the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek are still ongoing. The line will pass through 48 tunnels with a total length of 48.9 km, the longest being the Ferghana at 14.1 km, and requires the construction of 95 bridges with a total length of 20.9 km. In addition, due to the gauge differences between China and Kyrgyzstan, a bogie changing station will be built near the Tuz-Bel mountain pass where freight and containers will also be weighed and sorted.

Both Bishkek and Tashkent have already given their backing to the project. On his appointment as Kyrgyzstan’s Prime Minister in September, Zhantoro Atybaldiyev confirmed that his government would support the project. Two months later, Uzbekistans’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Economic Relations, Investments and Trade Bakhtiar Abdusamatov reiterated Uzbek backing.

The full feasibility study will provide an accurate figure of the exact cost of the project, although it is expected to be in the region of US $2 bln while annual income levels from the line are projected to be $210 mln. Malabaev said that the Uzbekistan government has given its approval for the project and discussions are continuing with China. He expects the railway to carry up to 5 mln tonnes of freight during its first year of operation, and 15 mln tonnes when it is fully operational.

Malabaev added that the railway expects to sign an agreement for the supply of three additional diesel locomotives to add to the two GE Evolution series diesel locomotives being built under license by the Kazakhstan Railways’ subsidiary Lokomotiv Kurastyru Zauyty in Astana. He also revealed that the railway is aiming to electrify much of its existing network.

A feasibility study for a rival railway from Iran via Afghanistan and Central Asia to China was also completed in January 2013. With Beijing firmly behind the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan route, it’s unclear whether China will also provide funding for the second line.

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