ON December 31, Uzbekistan Railways (UTY) inaugurated the first 115 km of its new cut-off line serving the country’s isolated northwest. Starting from the existing Chardzhou - Astrakhan line at Sultanuizdag, near Nukus, the line currently reaches Miskan. Eventually the route will run 362 km to the existing terminus at Uchkuduk, enabling UTY trains to reach the northwest without running through Turkmenistan.

Following proposals from the Railway Reform Council (RG 2.99 p67), the Uzbek parliament has approved a new Railways Act providing for the restructuring of UTY along business lines. However, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Industry, Energy & Transport Committee, Izidor Kochmaric, insists that the rail network will remain in state ownership.

Passing of the law has released a further US$40m loan from the European Bank for Reconstruction & Development, under a programme approved in 1998. This will fund the purchase of 8 to 10 electric freight locos to start a fleet renewal programme, and the upgrading of locomotive maintenance depots.

UTY has also ordered track maintenance equipment worth US$25m from Plasser & Theurer, using funds from a US$70m Asian Development Bank loan in the same programme. Plasser is supplying an 09 series tamper, K355 rail welder, DGS42 stabiliser, and a track geometry car. It is also providing training for 60 UTY track maintenance staff.