KAZAKHSTAN Railways has started work on an ambitious US$3·5bn project to build a 1435mm gauge railway linking Asia and Europe, paralleling the broad gauge Trans-Siberian corridor in Russia.

According to KTZ First Vice-President Kanat Zhangaskin, the standard gauge Trans-Kazakhstan Railway between China and Iran would cut journey times by up to a week. At present, all landbridge traffic must be transhipped to 1520mm gauge wagons at the Chinese border crossing in the Alatau Pass and returned to standard gauge when it reaches Europe. Annual traffic is forecast to consist of 35 million tonnes of transit freight and 20 million tonnes of export goods, with revenue of up to US$10bn.

To be designed for operation at up to 160 km/h, the new line would run from Dostyk to northwest Iran, a total length of 3930 km. Of this, 3070 km will be in Kazakhstan, 770 km in Turkmenistan and 70 km in Iran.

KTZ says that standard gauge track will be laid alongside the existing broad gauge from Dostyk to Aktogai and Mointy, from Kyzylzhar to Zhezkazgan and from Beineu to Aktau. A new trackbed will be constructed on the sections from Mointy to Kyzylzhar, from Zhezkazgan to Saksaulskaya, from Sai to Utes, and from Uzen to the border with Turkmenistan. Both gauges are envisaged between Saksuaskaya and Beineu.

According to Zhangaskin, work has already started on an initial 400 km single-track section running west from Dostyk. The target is to complete the line in five years.