No announcement yet.

The Kars-Akhalkalaki Railroad: Missing Link Between Europe and Asia

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • The Kars-Akhalkalaki Railroad: Missing Link Between Europe and Asia


    Wednesday / April 19, 2006

    By Taleh Ziyadov

    The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum (BTE)
    natural gas pipelines have transformed the strategic realities in the
    South Caucasus. As a result, the energy networks of Azerbaijan,
    Georgia and Turkey have become more integrated, raising the
    significance of the East-West Transport Corridor even more. Today,
    these states are ready to take on a new challenge by building the
    Kars-Akhalkalaki interstate railroad connection that will link the
    rail networks of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey and lay a foundation
    for a potential China-Central Asia-South Caucasus-Turkey-European
    Union transportation corridor. This project will not only boost
    continental container trade between Asia and Europe via the South
    Caucasus, but also further integrate the South Caucasus region with

    BACKGROUND: The idea of connecting the rail networks of Azerbaijan,
    Georgia and Turkey was first discussed during the Joint Transport
    Commission meeting in July 1993. The initiative was later integrated
    into the Master Plan on the Trans-European Railway (TER) networks
    sponsored by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe
    (UNECE). In July 2002, the Ministers of Transport of Azerbaijan,
    Georgia and Turkey signed a protocol confirming the route and at a
    February 28, 2005 meeting the parties agreed to conduct a feasibility
    study. UNECE lists this route among Priority 1 projects that could be
    funded and implemented rapidly by 2010. The realization of this
    project depends on the construction of a 98 km-long (60 miles) segment
    of rail from Kars in Turkey to Akhalkalaki in Georgia (68 kilometers
    in Turkey, 30 kilometers in Georgia, and the rehabilitation of the
    Akhalkalaki-Tbilisi line). The estimated cost of the project is about
    $400 million.

    Today, there are two operational railroads in the South Caucasus,
    which are part of the EU-sponsored TRACECA initiative that links
    Azerbaijan's and Georgia's transportation networks. These are the
    Baku-Tbilisi-Poti and the Baku-Tbilisi-Batumi railways. There is,
    however, no rail link between Georgia and Turkey. The construction of
    the Kars-Akhalkalaki railroad will connect Georgian and Turkish
    railroads and facilitate trade in the East-West direction. For
    example, a cargo from China could be delivered to Aktau (Kazakhstan)
    and then transported by railway ferries to Baku and shipped directly
    to Istanbul and onward to Europe via the
    Baku-Tbilisi-Akhalkalaki-Kars-Istanbul rail system. Likewise, a
    shipment from Europe could be easily transported to the South
    Caucasus, Central Asia or China. Hence, Kars-Akhalkalaki serves as a
    rail connection that will eventually unite railway networks of
    China-Central Asia-South Caucasus-Turkey and the European Union. The
    governments of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Kazakhstan have already made
    some progress in expanding the current TRACECA routes to Central Asia,
    which will be extended to China. In December, 2005, a container truck
    from Kazakhstan was sent to Georgia via Azerbaijan as a part of a
    pilot program. A 3,850-km (2406 miles) long Kazakh rail system from
    Aktau near the Caspian Sea to the city of Dostlik (Druzhba) near the
    Kazakh-Chinese border is currently operational. The length of the
    Baku-Tbilisi-Akhalkalaki-Kars and the Kars-Istanbul sections are 826
    km (516 miles) and 1,933 km (1208) respectively.

    IMPLICATIONS: One of the major outcomes of the Kars-Akhalkalaki
    railroad will be the increased continental trade through the East-West
    Transport Corridor. There are various estimates regarding the volume
    of potential cargo shipments through this route. Most forecasts
    suggest that during the initial stage (the first two years of
    operation), the volume of transport will reach 2 million tons and in
    the following three years it could increase up to 8-10 million tons.

    The construction of the Kars-Akhalkalaki railway will also open
    markets in the Mediterranean region and South-East Europe for
    Azerbaijan, Georgia and Central Asian states. It will increase the
    volume of container traffic through the South Caucasus and be a more
    secure and shorter way of reaching Asia or Europe. Goods and products
    from these countries could be shipped directly to Mersin, a costal
    Turkish port at the Mediterranean Sea, from where they could be
    transported by sea to the United States, Israel, Egypt or other North
    African and South European states. Turkish rail networks will also
    create an opportunity for uninterrupted rail shipments to and from
    Southeastern Europe.

    In addition, the project has significant geopolitical significance. As
    was the case with energy projects, inter-state railways will bring
    along questions regarding common security threats and will require
    collaborative efforts to address these threats. Azerbaijan, Georgia
    and Turkey will further integrate their security agendas to
    accommodate Azerbaijan's and Georgia's quest for the North Atlantic
    Treaty Organization (NATO) membership. The trilateral cooperation
    between Ankara, Baku and Tbilisi will move the three states into a
    more integrated transportation and security arrangements, thus
    cementing their ties with Europe and the United States.

    Since the Kars-Akhalkalaki railroad is a component of the East-West
    Transport Corridor, both the United States and the European Union will
    benefit from the realization of this project. Occasional attempts by
    some U.S. and European legislators and officials, especially those
    under the influence of Armenian lobbying groups that oppose the
    construction of this railroad, could seriously damage American and
    European national interests and their states' role in the South
    Caucasus. Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey could finance the
    construction of the Kars-Akhalkalaki project without external
    assistance. Yet, U.S. and European political and financial backing
    will strengthen their commitment to the regional development and
    increase their presence in the region, as it was during the
    construction of the BTC and BTE energy pipelines.

    Armenia's self-imposed seclusion by continuously rejecting to pull its
    troops from occupied Azerbaijani territories will further detach it
    from regional developments. Azerbaijani officials have repeatedly
    stated that they will not consider the Armenia-backed initiative to
    use the century-old Kars-Gyumri (Armenia)-Tbilisi railway unless
    Armenia ends its occupation of Azerbaijani lands. At the same time,
    Baku does not want to delay strategic and economic projects and wait
    until Armenia and Azerbaijan come to an overdue agreement in resolving
    the eighteenth-year old Karabakh conflict. Thus, the construction of
    the Kars-Akhalkalaki project, which may start in the late 2006 or the
    early 2007, is likely to advance regardless of developments in the
    Karabakh peace process.

    CONCLUSIONS: The construction of the Kars-Akhalkalaki railroad will
    address a missing link in the transportation networks connecting
    Europe and Asia. It will increase the volume of continental trade via
    Azerbaijan and Georgia and boost these states' role as transit
    countries. It will also move Azerbaijan and Georgia closer to the
    Euro-Atlantic community and create new opportunities for American and
    European engagement in the region. The project will accommodate the
    EU-sponsored TRACECA initiative as well as the U.S.-backed East-West
    Transport Corridor and make the region a crossroads for Trans-European
    and Trans-Asian continental trade.

    AUTHOR'S BIO: Taleh Ziyadov is an independent analyst, who holds an MA
    form the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. leid=4170