Afghanistan rail corridor agreement

AFGHANISTAN: An agreement to undertake detailed surveys for a railway linking Kabul with Uzbekistan and Pakistan was signed by Afghanistan’s Minister of Mines Wahidullah Shahrani and China Metallurgical Group Corp (MCC) on September 22. The contract specifies that MCC will construct a railway, if feasible, from northern Pakistan to Hayratan on the border with Uzbekistan.

The line is proposed as part of the Aynak copper mine concession which the government awarded to the Chinese company in 2007. It will connect Afghanistan and its capital to the railways of Pakistan and India, and to the extensive rail system of China, Europe and Central Asia. ‘When complete, the railway will give substantial benefits for the Afghan economy in trade, employment and cheaper prices’, said Shahrani. ‘This northern railway is part of a wider plan to extend the Afghan rail network to connect Afghanistan to ports in Iran and Pakistan.’

MCC will now call tenders for a feasibility study of the government’s preferred route. Detailed studies are expected to take 2½ years, and construction a further 2½ years.

The railway is to be constructed by MCC under a build, own, operate and transfer concession which will be negotiated once the government approves the feasibility study. The cost is estimated at up to US$5bn, which MCC will recover from usage fees before transferring the line to the government.

Industrial and mining development in Afghanistan has historically been hampered by poor transport infrastructure. The railway is expected to make mining more cost-effective, and as well as traffic from the Aynak copper deposits will carry transit and general freight, agricultural products and passengers. Lower transportation costs are expected to trigger a fall in the cost of goods and services, and the Ministry of Mines predicts that ‘huge economic and social development opportunities will arise along the rail route’.

Afghanistan’s first major railway, a 75 km route from Hayratan to near Mazar-i-Sharif, is currently nearing completion under a separate project funded by the Asian Development Bank.

The October issue of Railway Gazette International contains an overview of Afghanistan’s rail strategy by consultant David Brice.