China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan Railway agreement (Photo President of Uzbekistan)

ASIA: A trilateral intergovernmental agreement has been signed setting out the legal basis for building the planned China – Kyrgyzstan – Uzbekistan railway.

China’s President Xi Jinping, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Zhaparov and Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev participated in the event on June 6 by video link.

The project has been discussed several times since an initial Uzbek proposal in 1996. Most recently, a feasibility study was completed by China Railway Construction Corp in May 2023, and agreement has now been reached for the project to be progressed by a joint venture of the three national railways. The cost is put at US$8bn.

The 523 km route would start at Kashgar in China and cross the Kyrgyz border via the Torugart Pass, leading to a break of gauge interchange between China’s 1 435 mm and Central Asia’s 1 520 mm gauge networks in Makmal. The route would then continue to Jalal-Abad and Andijon. There would be 213 km in China, 260 km in landlocked Kyrgyzstan and 50 km in doubly-landlocked Uzbekistan. The Kyrgyz section would run at high altitude and require numerous tunnels, with the cost reportedly estimated at US$4·7bn.

Up to 15 million tonnes of freight traffic per year has been predicted to use the new line, which would cut the rail distance between the two regions by 900 km and transit times by seven days.

Zhaparov explained that ‘after many years of negotiations, thanks to our collective determination and support, the parties have been able to make significant progress in the last two to three years’.

Xi said the agreement marked the transition from a vision to reality of a strategic project for connectivity, suggesting that it would be a landmark project for the Belt & Road Initiative.

Mirziyoyev agreed that the signing ceremony was of historic significance, adding that the railway could also open up access large markets in South Asia and the Middle East via the proposed Trans-Afghanistan Corridor from Uzbekistan to Pakistan.