SEVEN groups of consultants have been shortlisted to undertake detailed design studies for the planned Silk Road rail corridor linking Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and China (RG 4.01 p223). Work on the project is expected to get under way shortly, following the signing of a formal accord by Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev and Chinese President Jiang Zemin at the end of June.

The Chinese government had previously favoured a route via Irkeshtam, but has now agreed to the Torugart alignment backed by the Kyrgyz and Uzbek partners. The 256 route-km in Kyrgyzstan is now costed at US$2·3bn, including a 4 km tunnel. Kyrgyz Transport Minister Kubanych Bekzhumaliyev says the line will take four years to build, and should open in 2005-06.

Consultants shortlisted for the study include Italferr, Carl Bro, Tractebel, Ove Arup with CIE Consult, Obermeyer Planen + Beraten of Germany, Lahmeyer International and Gibb with Systra.