Freight News, Rail

New rail route from China nears completion

[ October 16, 2017   //   ]

The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars rail line will be officially opened on 30 October, a route that could one day form part of a new connection between China and Europe.

Opening of the line between the Caspian Sea port city of Baku in Azerbaijan and Kars in eastern Turkey will create not only a new 850km route between the two countries – bypassing troubled Armenia – but could also form part of a direct link between China and western Europe.

According to Azerbaijan Railways’ head of strategic development and marketing, Ilham Abdulov, freight trains are expected to start immediately and passenger trains will also be introduced in future.

The east of Turkey itself will also have a direct rail link to Europe via the new Marmaray Tunnel in Istanbul, although there are still questions over whether this much-delayed link will be able to handle significant amounts of freight. Its primary function will be to improve passenger links in heavily-congested Istanbul.

While there will be a break of gauge between the standard (1435mm) track gauge used in Turkey and western Europe and the broader (1520mm) gauge used in the countries of central Asia and Russia, there will be modern cargo transfer and bogie-changing facilities at Akhalkalak.

According to the spokesman, freight trains could reach western Europe via Yavuz Sultan Selim bridge over the Bosphorus about 25km north of Istanbul, which includes rail tracks as well as a highway.

Abdulov added: “Through this bridge and the BTK line it will be possible to transport goods from China to Europe without any obstacles.”

A Middle Corridor route headquarters has been established headquartered in Astana, Kazhakstanto supervise train movements from  China via Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey to Europe and vice versa.

Abdulov said: “The main advantage of this corridor is delivery speed, a short transit route and competitive tariffs.”

The new link is also seen as an important part of China’s Belt and Road initiative to improve land transport links between China, central Asia and Europe.