First revenue train on the 75 km rail link from Hairatan arrives at Naibabad near Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan.

AFGHANISTAN: Celebrations were held at Naibabad freight terminal at 12.00 on February 3, when ‘a substantial reception party’ greeted the arrival of the first train carrying commercial traffic on the 75 km rail link between Hairatan and Mazar-i-Sharif.

The inaugural load comprised nine wagons of flour from Kazakhstan and three of timber from Siberia. Unloading began shortly after the train arrived at Naibabad, which lies just east of Mazar-i-Sharif airport.

Nominally operational since mid-2011, the line saw its first test trains reach Mazar-i-Sharif in late December, following further work to reinforce the trackbed and improve security. The line is being operated by Uzbekistan’s state railway under a three year concession signed on August 4, but UTY had been waiting for formal safety approval before starting commercial operation.

Forming an end-on extension of UTY’s cross-border spur via the Friendship Bridge over the Amu Darya River at Hairatan, the line to Mazar-i-Sharif was built by UTY under a deal with the Asian Development Bank signed in 2009. ADB contributed US$165m towards the estimated cost, with the rest raised locally. The Afghan parliament voted in October 2011 to provide a local contribution of US$20m.