Railway track in Balykchy, Kyrgyzstan, source: Mykola Zasiadko

Is the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway route finally happening?

Railway track in Balykchy, Kyrgyzstan, source: Mykola Zasiadko

The construction of the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway route will begin next year. This is according to Kyrgyz President Sadyr Zhaparov, who spoke to local media on Monday 30 May. The project has been on the table for twenty years, but the parties involved have not come to a concrete plan so far.

“We will start in 2023, after the feasibility study is completed this year. The feasibility study is being prepared with the participation of three parties”, the president was quoted as saying by the Global Times. The same media quotes Shavkat Mirziyoyev, president of Uzbekistan, confirming that the construction of the railway line will begin soon.

Kashgar – Tashkent automobile corridor, source: Agency of Automobile, Water Transport, Weight and Dimension Control of Kyrgyzstan

The benefits

The interests in a railway route China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan is high in all participating countries. First, a Xinjiang – Kyrgyzstan – Uzbekistan railway route will shorten the route from China to Uzbekistan even further. The railway link between China and Uzbekistan links to Iran (via Turkmenistan) and Turkey, as well as eventually to Europe, especially to Southeast Europe. With this, the route from China to Southeast Europe could be reduced up to 900 kilometres, equal to up to seven or eight days.

Secondly, it will stimulate the economic development of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The majority of container trains from central, eastern and southern China to Europe run via Xinjiang. Kashgar, one of the westernmost cities in China, could be a junction in Xinjiang. The Chinese government is discussing the construction of two railway lines from Kashgar: one westward to Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, and another southward.

The hurdles

Although the service has been examined and discussed by many, there are quite some hurdles on the way. The coice of route has not yet been decided, due to the difficult and mountainous landscape of southern Kyrgyzstan. Hence, there is no exact budget for the project.

Another unclarity involves the gauge. While both Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have tracks of a 1,520 millimetre gauge, the Chinese government has proposed to build a railway line with a gauge of 1,435 millimetres through Kyrgyzstan. The Kyrgyz government is afraid that the new route will bring no benefits to the country and will only use a part of its territory. Therefore, it offered China to construct several other lines with a gauge of 1,520 millimetres across the country. China refused to do this.

According to plan, the total length of the CKU railway is about 523 kilometers, including 213 kilometers in China, 260 kilometers in Kyrgyzstan and about 50 kilometers in Uzbekistan.

Author: Majorie van Leijen

Majorie van Leijen is the editor-in-chief of RailFreight.com, the online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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