CEREMONIES were held at Bereket in Turkmenistan's Balkan region on December 1 to mark the formal start of construction on the 697·5 km international rail corridor linking Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Iran (RG 11.07 p674).

Held where the north-south Uzen - Gyzylgaya - Bereket - Etrek - Gorgan route will intersect the existing Ashgabat - Turkmenbashi line, the event was attended by Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, Kazakhstan's acting Minister of Transportation & Communications Zhenis Kasymbekov and the Director of Iranian Islamic Republic Railways Hassan Ziyari.

The President signed the official decree and resolutions authorising the construction of the Turkmen section, and participated in the signing of a trilateral agreement before formally laying the first golden track panel.

Gurbanguly said the north-south corridor would become 'the most convenient, and economically-efficient transit route' between Russia, the Central Asian states and Europe, as well as providing an outlet to the Persian Gulf region. It would also provide 'a strong incentive in developing' the western part of Kazakhstan 'which is home to enormous natural reserves'. The route is expected to be operational by December 2011.

On December 5 Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry confirmed its intention to develop the transcontinental rail corridor between China and Europe, requiring the construction of around 2 500 km of new line and upgrading of the country's existing rail infrastructure.