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2011 †N1-2(70-71)
Turkmenistan has a very advantageous geographical location. It is no coincidence that in ancient times this place was called the "crossroads of seven roads." And now, using this natural advantage, the country is actively developing its transportation system with railways occupying an important place. The construction of the transnational transport corridor North-South is currently in high gear. New roads of regional and international significance are being built. The transport infrastructure is being developed rapidly.

The new transport corridor North - South is a priority project for the national railway industry. The railway Gorgan - Bereket - Kyzylkaya - Uzen will link Iran, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. By this route, goods in transit will come from the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf through Turkmenistan to Northern and Eastern Europe. This route will be three times shorter than the route through the Suez Canal. This means that transportation of goods along the North - South corridor will be much more profitable. Thus, Turkmenistan will become a major transport terminal of continental importance that will bring considerable economic benefits to the country from transit traffic. It will also serve the further development of comprehensive international cooperation.

The initiative to build the transport corridor North-South was first put forward by the President of Turkmenistan in the spring of 2007. A bit later, it was put into practice in a tripartite agreement on the construction of this railway signed by Turkmenistan, Iran and Kazakhstan in Tehran.

Implementation of this ambitious project started at the railway station of Bereket in Turkmenistan on December 1, 2007. The new railway is expected to be commissioned on the eve of the 20th anniversary of Turkmenistan's independence, a few months earlier than originally planned. At present, the construction of all parts of the railway is in full swing. The total length of the railway line Uzen Kyzylkaya - Bereket - Etrek - Gorgan will be 934.5 km, including 722.5 km in the territory of Turkmenistan, 82 km in the territory of Iran and 130 km in the territory of Kazakhstan. It is projected that the railway will be at first capable of transporting 5.3 million tons of cargo a year. Volumes of freight traffic will increase to 10-12 million tons in the future.

In the territory of Turkmenistan, the North-South railway route crosses the areas with difficult terrain. Other than small hills and lowland areas, builders have to overcome sands, salt marshes and takyrs. The main part of this unique railway line that crosses the central part of one of the world's largest deserts - the Karakum desert - is currently under construction in the sands of the desert in Turkmenistan. Along the railway line, shelter belts are being erected in the desert; bridges and mud torrent crossings are being constructed in mountainous areas; and many man-made structures are being built on Ustyurt plateau.

The construction of the railway line in the territory of Turkmenistan is conducted simultaneously in two directions. The first of them runs from the station of Bereket through Kyzylkaya to the Turkmen-Kazakh border. The length of this line is 466 km. It is being built by the Ministry of Railway Transport of Turkmenistan. The second segment with the length of 256.5 km runs from the station of Bereket through Etrek to the Turkmen-Iranian border. Construction work is carried out by Iranian "Pars Energy" company that signed a contract worth 696 million U.S. dollars with the Ministry of Railway Transport of Turkmenistan in January 2010. The scale of work is exemplified by the fact that road builders will have to lay 36,6 million cubic meters of land and build over 280 bridges of various types in Turkmenistan.

There will be built over 20 stations and crossing points, as well as hundreds of engineering structures along the whole length of the railway line. Thus, the station of Bereket, which is undergoing a major reconstruction, will become a railway hub of international importance. A big modern station will be built in the city of Serdar. Globally, the creation of the new communication system is quite comparable with the importance of the Great Silk Road in ancient times. Thus, modern Turkmenistan, using its advantageous geographical position, continues to serve as an important international transport junction.

The North-South railway will become the road of friendship and cooperation. Connecting neighboring countries such as Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Iran in the third millennium, the railway line will provide them with real economic benefits and broad opportunities for meaningful integration into the global economy in terms of equal partnership.

It's safe to say that the new railway will bring water and electricity in the desert regions of north-west, as well as lines of communication, new houses and cultural facilities. Thus, the North-South railway line will play a pivotal role in creating new social infrastructure in desert regions and developing vast natural resources in the Caspian region and the northern territories - from Bereket to the border with Kazakhstan.

It should be noted that over the years of independence Turkmenistan has built three new main railway lines: Tejen - Sarahs (120 km), Ashgabat - Karakum - Dashoguz (540 km), as well as Turkmenabat - Atamurat (214 km). The new transport corridor North - South will significantly increase the total length of the railway network of Turkmenistan. As of today, it accounts for more than 3000 km, connecting regional centers, towns and villages.

The year of 2009 was marked with a significant event for the transport and construction industry. The railway bridge across the Amu Darya river between the stations of Atamurat and Kerkichi was put into operation. This grand structure with the total length of 1,414 meters embodied the latest achievements of engineering thought and modern technology. Dozens of solid concrete poles pierced the sandy river bottom, ensuring the durability of the large-scale construction. The underwater parts of the bridge poles are covered with durable polyester sleeve-guards to protect concrete. The length of each of 12 spans of the railway bridge is 110 meters. The new railway crossing across the Amu Darya river will significantly reduce the distance and travel time for trains in this direction.

The Ministry of Railway Transport is rapidly upgrading the cargo transport, rolling stock, construction machinery, meeting the highest standards of quality and reliability, to increase the freight and passenger transportation by railways, as well as for construction of new main lines. In the last four years alone, Turkmenistan received 66 passenger, freight and shunting locomotives from China that proved well in the climatic conditions of the country.

Turkmenistan also buys coaches for different purposes from China. They boast comfortable conditions for passengers, including centralized electricity and climate control systems. In the last two years alone, Turkmenistan received 64 coaches, and this year it will receive 113 more units.

The need for specialized freight cars is also visibly growing in the country that is experiencing an unprecedented construction boom. To this end, the Turkmen side is planning to sign a contract with Russian company "Vagontreyt" for the purchase of 200 wagons, including for the transportation of bulk cargo and inert materials. It is also planned to buy wagons of other modifications to transport metals, grain, cotton, consumer goods. A large number of vehicles and special construction equipment for the Ministry will be delivered shortly under the contract signed with Belarus.

The renewal of rolling stock of the rail transport in recent years has made it possible to significantly increase freight and passenger transportation. The upgrade of specialized equipment significantly accelerated construction of new railways and ensured higher quality maintenance of railways in accordance with the program of development of railway transport until 2030.

In the period of implementation of the national program, it is planned to carry out construction of new facilities and upgrade infrastructure at the existing railway lines. At the same time, the construction of the railways Atamurat - Tahtabazar and Tejen - Babadayhan will be continued, and first sections of railways for high speed trains will be commissioned. By 2015, the total length of railways in the country should increase to 3900 km.

It is also planned to upgrade the diesel rolling stock to electric traction from 2021 to 2030. In this period, the upgrade to electric traction will be provided, in the first place, for the most congested areas and sites, as well as a number of connecting lines between the electrified railways.

The main goal of the transportation policy of Turkmenistan is to form a highly efficient national transportation system designed to meet the demand for transportation of passenger and cargo, enhancing their security, creating conditions for financial recovery of transport companies with support of investment activities, increasing competitiveness of national carriers in the domestic and foreign markets. At the same time, the development of the transport sector will correspond to the growing commercial relations of Turkmenistan with foreign countries in order to create profitable, reliable and affordable direct transit routes.

Oleg LUKIN, economic analyst

©Turkmenistan Analytic magazine, 2005