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Europe to China through Afghanistan

29 Aug 2008

Letter to the Editor

Sir - The proposal to route a rail link from the Aynak copper mine in Afghanistan to China via Dushanbe and Kashgar is interesting (RG 6.08 p361). It would not be significantly longer than the alternative Wakhan corridor route, and would certainly avoid very difficult terrain (although not the notorious Salang Pass). The burning question is what gauge should be adopted?

Sensibly it should be 1 435 mm to match China’s rail network. Assuming that Iran’s 1 435 mm gauge line to Herat (RG 1.08 p55) might eventually be extended further eastwards, a much desired 1 435 mm gauge route could soon exist between China and western Europe.

However the Dushanbe route would involve two additional countries — Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan — with the inevitable border crossings and likely political complications. The Wakhan route would cross directly from Afghanistan into China.

The planning of this rail link will need a very careful balancing of political factors against commercial and geophysical considerations. In any case, the opportunity to avoid tedious gauge changes must not be passed up.

David Brice
David Brice Consultancy Ltd, Shenfield, UK