CONSTRUCTION of the rail link between Turkey and Georgia formally got underway on November 21, with the presidents of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey laying a foundation stone at Marabda station in the Tetri-Tskaro region of Georgia.

Turkey is providing US$220m to fund the 76 km of new line to be built on its territory between Kars and the Georgian border, while Azerbaijan has provided Georgia with a US$200m credit to fund the construction of the final 30 km to the current railhead at Akhalkalaki and upgrade the route to the Azeri border.

The three presidents signed an agreement for construction in February 2007, and the line is expected to be open by 2010, enabling passengers and freight from Azerbaijan to reach Turkey via Georgia without needing to use a route through Armenian territory which has been closed since 1993. Traffic is expected to total 3 million tonnes of freight and 1·5 million passengers in 2010, rising to 16·5 million tonnes of freight and 3·5 million passengers in 2034.

At the ceremony President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan said 'For long years, the talks we carried out with numerous financial and international organisations did not yield fruit. But our countries showed the will and now we solve this project ourselves. All financial and technical questions have found a solution, the technical economic calculations are solved, and today we shall start construction of the railroad.'