AFGHANISTAN: The Ministry of Public Works has commissioned a feasibility study for a proposed 300 km east - west railway across northern Afghanistan.

The C$3·7m contract announced on December 11 has been awarded to Systra's Canadian freight railway consultancy Canarail and its partner Appleton Consulting Inc, which specialises in programme management for projects in Afghanistan.

The study is to get underway in February for completion within 12 months. Funding is being provided by the Asian Development Bank, building on the conclusions of its Railway Development Study.

Two routes are proposed, extending the 75 km long 1 520 mm gauge line from Hairatan on the Uzbek border to Mazar-i-Sharif which opened to commercial freight traffic in early 2012.

One route would run around 225 km west through Sheberghan and Andkhvoy to Aqina. This would link to a planned cross-border extension of Turkmenistan's rail network which is being developed with the support of that country. The second route would run around 50 km northeast from the existing Mazar-i-Sharif line to the border with Tajikistan.

'Under this study, we have to provide justification and make recommendations as to the gauge to be adopted for development of the railway network in the country', Canarail told Railway Gazette International. 'Consideration will be given to the gauge in operation in other countries in the region to facilitate unhindered movement of goods and passengers across the borders.'

Canarail said that if the lines prove to be feasible they would foster cross-border and regional trade, increase rail usage, ensure the viability of the initial railway investment, and introduce competition in rail operations.

'Afghanistan has a vast potential for developing the mineral extraction sector, which may be an engine of self-sustaining economic growth in the near future', said Canarail President & CEO Miguel Valero.