INTERNATIONAL BIDS for construction of a 287 km rail link between Turkey and Georgia are due on February 19, paving the way for a start of work on the three-year project later this year. The Georgian Railway Department and Turkish State Railways issued matching calls for tenders on November 17, following a meeting of the two transport ministers a week earlier.

Originally planned as a build-operate-transfer project, the line is now being offered as a turnkey contract, to be funded by the two governments using external credits. Total cost is put at US$700m, which will be split equally between the two countries.

The electrified double-track link will complete a direct route from Turkey to the independent Turkic republics in the CIS, replacing an existing line which runs through Armenia (map). Starting from the TCDD main line at Kars, it will run northeast for 92.5 km to the border and then east for 35 km through Georgia to Akhalkalaki. The existing 160 km single-track branch onwards to Tbilisi will be reconstructed as a double-track main line with easier gradients and smoother curves, and will also be electrified at 25 kV 50Hz.

The Turkish portion of the project includes 120 km of secondary tracks at stations, together with associated buildings, two transformer stations and five sub-stations. Signalling and communications links will also be required. The Georgians will provide rolling stock, in the form of 100 locomotives and 8000 wagons and coaches.