PROPOSALS for a rail link across the Tienshan mountains to open up trade between China, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have inched forward. A protocol was signed in March in Bishkek, and a group of experts is working on possible routes.

One would run from Kashi in China’s Xinjiang province northwest to the Torugart pass. It would then drop down from a summit at around 3500m above sea level to reach Jalal-Abad in Kyrgystan, close to the Uzbekistan border.

A second route under discussion would run west from Kashi to the border town of Irkeshtam, then turn northwest to Osh and into Uzbekistan. In due course a link would be built from Jalal-Abad northeast to Kochgorka (map RG 8.98 p500), where work is already under way to build a mineral line to Balykchy on the existing Kyrgyzstan network. A source close to the project said ’it is fairly realistic and there are no problems of a technical nature’.