JUNE 19 saw the opening to traffic of the first new railway to be completed in Kazakhstan since it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The 184 km Aksu - Konechnaya line connects the existing branches from Pavlodar to Ermak and Semipalatinsk to Degelen, providing a direct link between the industrial regions in the north and northeast of the country.

Tracklaying began in 1998 and was completed on December 8 2000 when President Nursultan Nazarbayev participated in ceremonies at Koktobe. Total cost of the project, which includes four intermediate stations at Kurkol, Zhumysker, Koktobe, Maiskaya and a major bridge over the Irtish - Karaganda canal, is put at 6·5bn tenge.

KTZ says the link will cut several key routes by an average of 600 km - traffic from Pavlodar had previously to be routed via Astana, Shu and Almaty or through Russia. Journey time reductions of 10 to 12h are forecast for passenger trains.

The line is also expected to spur development of coal and oil deposits in the Aksu and Mai regions, with freight traffic forecast to reach 10 million tonnes by 2011. It will carry nine freight and two passenger trains each way per day.

Work is expected to get under way shortly on a 449 km corridor between Donskoye and Krasno-octyabrskyi, linking the northern and central regions with the far west of Kazakhstan. The US$196m project will cut 1500 km from the distance needed to ship northern grain to the Caspian Sea port of Aktau.

  • KTZ has completed the electrification of a further 90 km of its Shu - Almaty line, from Otrar to Uzun-Agash.