Central Asia Development Moves East
January 24, 2014 • 11:08AM

It is evident that the Iron Silk road that China has built to link western China with Kazakstan has begun to pay dividends, at least trade-wise. Citing Kazakhstan Temir Zholy National Railways Operator president Askar Mamin, Tengrinews reported on Jan. 23 that trade is expected to get a significant boost in the coming days. With the new railway border crossing Altynkol-Khorgos in operation, the freight traffic between the two nations totaled 19.4 million tons, 2.8 million tons up (17%) in 2013, compared to 2012, Mamin said.

Central Asia. Image: State Dept.

The second cross-border railway between China and Kazakstan opened on December 22, 2013, and is composed of a 292-km section in China and the remaining 293-km section in Kazakstan. They were joined at the Khorgos Pass in Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. The second rail link is expected to ease the burden of the Alataw trade pass, where the first China-Central Asia railway traverses. It handles 16.6 million tons of rail cargo a year.

Furthermore, Mamin points out that the freight traffic in 2014 is expected to reach 21.5 million tons, with 17.5 million of them running through border crossing, Dostyk, which is connected to Alataw trade pass. Dostyk (Kazak) or Druzhba (Russian), connected to the first rail crossing, is a small town in Kazakhstan's Almaty Province, on the border with Xinjiang, China. It is a port of entry (by highway and railroad) from China. The rail portion serves as an important link in the Eurasian Land Bridge.

Plans are afoot to ship around 38 million tons a year by 2020. On December 22, 2013, Kazakhstan and China jointly launched the Altynkol-Khorgos border crossing. Before that, the only railway link ran from Dostyk station (in Kazakhstan) to Alashankow (in China). Since the latter was launched back in 1991, it has handled over 156 million tons of freight.

To add to the network, on Jan. 21 a cargo train linking east China and five central Asian nations began operation, according to Xinhua. The train travels 4600 kilometers (more than the transcontinental railway in the U.S.).

All these trade ties follow the signing of a Silk Road economic belt agreement last November, by 24 cities in 8 countries along the Silk Road.

North-South Transnational Corridor Linking Iran to Kazakstan Takes Shape

After extending an invitation on Jan. 22 to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to pay an official visit to his country, Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov told a meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers that the construction of a railway within the North-South Transnational Corridor Project will be completed this fall, and the construction of a North-South highway should be completed in October. The project is being implemented with the assistance of the Asian Development Bank and Islamic Development Bank.

The North-South Transnational Corridor is a 677-km-long railway line connecting the Central Asian countries of Kazakstan and Turkmenistan with Iran and the Persian Gulf. It will link Uzen in Kazakstan with Gyzylgaya-Bereket-Etrek in Turkmenistan, and end at Gorgan in Iran's Golestan province. In Iran, the railway will be linked to the national network, making its way to the ports of the Persian Gulf. Kazak and Turkmen Presidents Nursultan Nazarbayev and Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov took part in the opening ceremony of the Bolashak-Serhetyaka transborder rail section last May, reported Trend. The Bolashak-Serhetyaka section is the shortest railway link between the two countries.

In May 2013 the project for merging the railroads on the Kazakh-Turkmen border was launched. Currently, work is underway at the Iranian and Turkmen sites. This regional project will provide access for European and Asian countries to Central Asia and the Persian Gulf. The rail line will complement existing road transport and, on completion, will be the shortest route between Europe and Central Asia, shortening the distance by 600 km, and allowing transportation of five million tons of freight a year, which is expected to rise to 12 million tons.

Turkmenistan has significant potential for transporting bulk goods such as oil and gas, mineral resources, agricultural products, and textiles, and the rail link will serve as a key link connecting the neighboring countries. Currently all the imports and exports are transported by road across the borders.

During a state visit to Ashgabat, capital of Turkmenistan, in June 2013, Turkish President Abdullah Gul said that Turkey was ready to join the Iran-Turkmenistan-Kazakstan transport corridor. "Joining the North-South transport corridor is important for us too," Gul said.