Trans-Afghanistan railway survey (Photo: ARA)

AFGHANISTAN: A preliminary field survey has identified no technical problems with the proposed route for a 780 km trans-Afghanistan railway which would link Uzbekistan with Kabul, Jalalabad, the border with Pakistan and Peshawar.

The proposed railway is a joint initiative by Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan which is intended to promote regional connectivity and trade. It would also provide Central Asia with access to Pakistan’s seaports. The cost is provisionally estimated at US$5bn.

Speaking during a visit to Pakistan earlier this year, Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev described the proposed railway as ‘our common future’, suggesting that when completed it would ‘create the closest, cheapest and safest corridor linking Pakistan with Central Asia’ that would ‘completely change the face of our regions’.

Trans-Afghanistan railway survey group (Photo: ARA)

Surveying by a joint technical team from the three countries began at Naibabad on the existing Uzbekistan – Hairatan – Mazar-i-Sharif railway on July 27 and was completed at Torkham on the border with Pakistan on August 10.

The joint team will make any necessary changes to the proposed alignment before presenting a final route to the authorities in the three countries for further technical and economic feasibility studies.

The Afghanistan Railway Authority said the members of the tri-national technical team considered the survey a success, and had expressed satisfaction with the arrangements made by the Afghan government and the professional behaviour of the railway authority.

Bakht-u-Rehman Sharafat, who became ARA Chairman following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, said railway projects would guarantee Afghanistan’s economic development and also security.

Afghan railway students (Photo: ARA)

Afghan students have recently joined ARA after completing a railway course in Uzbekistan, and the authority has launched an indigenisation programme which includes a requirement for its contractors to transfer skills to Afghan engineers. ‘We want and try to give our railways an Afghan identity’, Sharafat explained.

Afghanistan freight yard (Photo: ARA)

History, economics and conflict mean that Afghanistan’s rail links to Central Asia are currently limited to two short 1 520 mm gauge cross-border links from Turkmenistan and the 75 km line from Uzbekistan to Mazar-i-Sharif.

Afghan railway from Iran with damaged track

A 1 435 mm gauge line from Khaf in Iran towards Herat was inaugurated as far as Rozanak in December 2020; this was damaged last year and is now to be repaired.

Pakistan’s 1 676 mm gauge Khyber Pass line once ran from Peshawar to a terminus just short of the Afghan border but is now out of use. It has been badly damaged by flooding, and reinstatement would require significant work.