KAZAKHSTAN: Ceremonies were held at Arka on November 30 to mark the opening of the Khromtau - Altynsarino line by President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who dispatched the first grain train over the route.

The 403·9 km line between Donskoye and Krasno-Octyabrskyi connects KTZ's northern and western routes, paralleling the Russian border in the northwest of the country. Construction began in September 2002, including 13 stations and 11 major bridges. Total cost was 30bn tenge, of which the government contributed 25·5bn.

The line shortens by 1500 km the route between the north and centre of the country. It will handle northbound traffic from the iron, copper and bauxite mines at Aktyubinsk to processing facilities in Pavlodar and Karaganda, and southbound grain to the Caspian Sea port of Aktau. It is also expected to trigger the opening up of further mines. Journey times for passenger services will be cut by up to 15h compared to the former route via Russia which involved two border crossing delays.

During the opening ceremonies, the President instructed KTZ to push ahead with two other new line projects. The route from Charsk to Ust Kamenogorsk will connect up two isolated routes in the northeast, and the Saksaulskaya - Beineu line linking southern Kazakhstan with Aktau will eventually form part of the standard-gauge trans-Kazakhstan landbridge (RG 8.04 p486).