First train Baku–Tbilisi–Kars (BTK) railway departs in two weeks
The Baku–Tbilisi–Kars railway (BTK) is complete and the first train will depart Baku in westward direction on the 30th of October. The completion of the crucial railway link connecting Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey is an important step forward in establishing the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (TITR), recently re-dubbed the Middle Corridor.
The Middle Corridor runs from China to Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey and Ukraine, crossing the Caspian and Black sea along the route. The corridor is one of the New Silk Road routes and forms an alternative to the popular Trans-Siberian route. Until now, a rail freight connection between Turkey and Central Asia has been missing.
The 825 kilometers long journey connects the eastern Turkish province of Kars with the Azeri capital Baku on the Caspian Sea through the Georgian capital Tbilisi. The trip takes around 16-18 hours. In the Georgian city of Akhalkalaki, trains will pass through a gauge-changing facility, in order to adapt to the varying gauge measurements of Central Asian countries on the one hand, and European, GIS and Asian countries on the other.
Initially, an annual volume of 6.5 million tonnes of cargo is expected to be transported along the route, with the aim to increase to 17 million tonnes of cargo per year. Chairman of Azerbaijan Railways Javid Gurbanov noted: “We are currently preparing agreements with the Georgian and Turkish Railways for sending the first cargo. Currently, conditions are being created to send around 400,000 tons of grain, wood, and coal from Russia.”
The connection includes 722.7 kilometer of existing track (503 in Azerbaijan, 218.2 in Georgia and 1.5 in Turkey) and 102.3 kilometer of new track (26.3 in Georgia and 76 in Turkey). The existing network was further upgraded in Azerbaijan through a change in power supply from alternating to direct current, improved signalling, communication and auto-blocking systems and the creation of a centralised control system.
From Baku, the Middle Corridor takes the journey further east. This corridor has been developed over the past two years, with the first test container train from China arriving at Baku International Sea Trade Port in August 2015. In October 2016, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Georgia signed an agreement to establish the TITR Association with its office in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan.
Tariffs on the Middle Corridor are likely to be reduced due to ongoing negotiations with maritime operators on the Black Sea, International Association TITR said earlier. Applying competitive tariffs for cargo transportation on this corridor has been one of the main aims of TITR parties since January last year. Recently, preferential rates along the route from Altynkol (Kazakhstan) to Slavkov (Poland) and from Altynkol to Istanbul were introduced.