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Freight Services Start on Afganistan Railways

29 August 2011

www.www.ifw-net.com of 8/29/2011 -

Freight services have started on Afghanistan's first major railway. Under a three-year agreement, Uzbekistan's national railway company (UTY) is operating the 75 km, 1,520 mm gauge line, which it built at a cost of US$165m using funding from the Asian Development Bank. The line starts at the Hairatan freight terminal on the Afghan side of the Uzbek border, which handles around half of Afghanistan's imports and is served by a Soviet-built rail spur dating from the early 1980s.  It then crosses empty steppe to a freight terminal near Mazar-e-Sharif airport. The Hairatan to Mazar-e-Sharif link is part of the Central Asia Regional Economic Co-operation (CAREC) Programme. Although the road between the two centres has been improved, it cannot meet national and regional traffic needs, according to the ADB.  Freight capacity at Hairatan reached its limit of 4,000 tons of cargo a month years ago, yet the flow of goods from Central Asia to Afghanistan is projected to rise to 25,000-40,000 tons a month over the next At a later stage, the railway network will be extended to Herat in the west and Tajikistan in the east. The railway will primarily service commercial and non-military cargo. UTY was appointed to operate the line as its only international connection is through Uzbekistan. In addition, Afghanistan lacks an indigenous rail industry which means it will take some time to train local operations and maintenance staff.  The war-torn country's only other main line railway is a short spur across the border from Turkmenistan. Although an Iranian-funded 1,435 mm gauge line is under construction from Iran to Herat, and a north-south line to serve the Aynak copper mining development is also being studied by Chinese mining.