After nearly a century, a modern Afghan railroad is under construction

Discussion in 'International Politics' started by pmaitra, Mar 1, 2011.

  1. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

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    After nearly a century, a modern Afghan railroad is under construction

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    By Ivan Watson, CNN
    September 27, 2010 10:51 a.m. EDT


    Hairatan, Northern Afghanistan (CNN) -- Afghan visitors pose for photos and pretend to sell each other passenger tickets next to a rusty little locomotive in a shattered corner of the Afghan capital.

    Built in Germany in 1923, this little engine is all that is left of King Amanullah Khan's effort to modernize Afghanistan by constructing a 7 kilometer-long railroad in downtown Kabul in the 1920s. The locomotive is now a curiosity at the Kabul Museum, standing below the ruins of the former king's battle-scarred palace.

    For 24-year old Abil Ahmad, it is the first time he has seen a train in Afghanistan.

    "It's a very sad symbol," says the university student. "Unfortunately we don't have a train today."

    In fact, the first modern railroad in Afghanistan in nearly a century is nearing completion in the north of the country.

    Construction crews from Uzbekistan are putting the final touches on a brand-new, 75-kilometer long railroad that runs from the Uzbek-Afghan border to the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif.

    An eerie metallic "whump" echoes down the rails, as service locomotives and passenger trains carrying work crews and equipment trundle up and down the track.

    "Afghanistan is a land-locked country and its economic prospects depend quite a bit on connectivity with its neighbors," says Craig Steffensen of Asian Development Bank, which contributed $165 million dollars for construction of the project. "If we extend the railway across northern Afghanistan it will really be a shot in the arm towards Afghanistan's economic prospects."

    Due to poverty, isolation and war, Afghanistan skipped the age of railroads. Afghans went from riding horseback to traveling by car down bone-jarring dirt roads. The country's economy relies on convoys of trucks to ship goods.

    Steffensen says the new railroad will dramatically increase capacity for freight passing through Hairatan, the main shipping terminal at the Uzbek-Afghan border. Clusters of freshly-painted fuel depot tanks have cropped up in the sands around Hairatan. According to the Asian Development Bank, Hairatan is the biggest transit point in Afghanistan, accepting more than 50 percent of all imports, including more then 80 percent of the country's fuel.

    The new railroad is part of an ambitious plan to develop a new "North-South" trade corridor. Afghanistan has long been economically and politically severed from its northern, former Soviet neighbors. But for the past several years, the U.S. State Department has been promoting the construction of bridges, rail links and pipelines to the former Soviet republics of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. The idea is to eventually link energy-rich Central Asia to energy-hungry South Asia through the war-torn mountains and deserts of Afghanistan.

    The plan has won support from another major player in the region: China.

    Last week, the Chinese state mining company China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC) signed an agreement with the Afghan government to develop plans to construct a much longer railroad in eastern Afghanistan. MCC estimates the project's initial price tag would be between $6- to $7 billion dollars.

    The proposed railway would run at least 700 kilometers (434 miles) from the border of Pakistan to Kabul, past the Aynak copper mine south of Kabul. MCC won a tender in 2008 to extract copper from Aynak.

    The Afghan government is counting on untapped mineral resources to be the main engine for economic growth in coming decades. But officials say new transport infrastructure will be essential for mineral extraction to succeed.

    "For the transportation of iron ore or copper you must have a railway line," said Wahidullah Shahrani, Afghanistan's minister of mines.

    Chinese officials say there is another vital element before railroad construction can begin: security.

    The proposed MCC railroad runs right through heavily-contested Taliban country.

    "There really exists a problem of security," said MCC president Zou Jianhui, when asked by CNN how he planned to protect the multi-billion dollar railroad. Jianhui said the security environment would be assessed after two years, when the feasibility study for the railroad is expected to be completed.

    "If the security situation is getting worse, then of course we will see and discuss with the [Afghan] government how to go ahead with this investment. Definitely the security of the investment, the safety of the investment is very important to the investor," he added.

    Representatives of Uzbekistan's state railway company say they have not encountered a single security incident since the company began construction of the railroad in northern Afghanistan last January.

    Armies of guards protect the Uzbek work crews. Afghan police have erected guard posts every few kilometers along the railroad.

    Afghanistan's northern Balkh province, where the railroad is located, is considered to be one of the safer parts of the country. And yet a deadly suicide bombing targeted a NATO military convoy outside the main city of Mazar-e Sharif last week, killing and wounding several Afghan civilian bystanders.

    Despite the fear of possible sabotage attacks, residents of the rapidly-growing trade hub of Hairatan clearly see hope in the construction of the new railroad.

    "This connects Afghanistan to the world," says an 18-year-old high school student named Shakrullah. He says he hopes to one day get a job as an engineer for the railroad. "I want trains for all the provinces of Afghanistan, not just for Balkh province."

    Just a few yards away, an Uzbek operator brought a construction locomotive to a squeaking halt, allowing several women dressed in billowing blue burkas to lead their children by hand over the railroad's dusty tracks.

    Source: http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/asiapcf/09/27/afghanistan.first.railroad/index.html?hpt=C1
     
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2011
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  3. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

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    Afghanistan's Past And Future Railroad

    Afghanistan's Past And Future Railroad

     
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  4. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

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    Afghans Open Railway Between Uzbekistan and Mazar-e-Sharif

    Afghans Open Railway Between Uzbekistan and Mazar-e-Sharif

     
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  5. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

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    New Afghanistan Rail Line Speeds Flow of Humanitarian Aid

    New Afghanistan Rail Line Speeds Flow of Humanitarian Aid

     
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  6. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

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  7. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

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    Afghanistan's First New Railroad On Track

    Afghanistan's First New Railroad On Track

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    October 14, 2010
    By Charles Recknagel
    Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty


    MAZAR-E SHARIF, Afghanistan -- From the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif to the Uzbek border, the land runs flat with barely a hillock to block the way.

    It is perfect terrain for building a railway. So, since Afghanistan inaugurated construction of its northern rail line in May, progress has been fast.

    Now, the Uzbek company contracted to lay the track has completed almost all of the 75-kilometer line. According to the schedule, the construction should be finished by the end of this year.

    If so, Afghanistan will get its first railroad in more than 100 years. That is when a former monarch, Amir Abdurrahman, banned rail lines as potential invasion routes.

    Officials say the railroad will speed up freight deliveries across the Uzbek border dramatically.

    "The [delivery time] will decrease by 50 percent because the speed of rail transport is faster, since the wagons don't have to stop," says Ahmad Wali Sangar, an economic adviser to the government of Balkh Province, where Mazar-e Sharif is located. "When the cargo is loaded on the train wagons, the trader's products will be transported straight to Afghanistan."

    Currently, the stops can be endless.

    Revitalize The Economy

    Everything headed by rail for Afghanistan has to stop at the Uzbek border and be offloaded to trucks. The offloading and resulting backups and customs checks can means weeks of delay before the cargo continues on its way.

    The railroad will solve that problem by allowing containers -- which are sealed at their point of origin -- to move across the border without interruption to a major new freight terminal near Mazar-e Sharif's airport. From the terminal, the cargo can be forwarded by truck or air, making Mazar-e Sharif a major distribution hub for the country.

    The Asian Development Bank, which is funding the construction with some $165 million, hopes the railway line will help revitalize the Afghan economy by bringing in goods faster and cheaper than is now possible. Among the key imports are grain, fuel, and foodstuffs from Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and, farther afield, from Russia.

    But the rail from the border will also enable Washington and NATO to bring in more supplies for troops, reducing the coalition's dependence on routes through Pakistan where militants routinely attack trucks. And that may make the railroad a tempting target for the Taliban.

    Currently, the railroad is guarded by a force of 500 police. The headquarters of the force is a small, windswept outpost halfway between Mazar-e Sharif and the Afghan border crossing of Hairaton, where the new rail line starts.

    Cause To Worry

    General Asghar Asghary, the head of the force, receives visitors in the post's single small concrete building. He says there are other posts scattered along the length of the track and that the force is strong enough to protect the line when it becomes operational.

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    General Asghar Asghary

    "We won't need more police than we have now. The structure we have is entirely capable," Asghary says. "And even during the last three to four months, the company's trains have been coming and going a lot with workers and they are being protected."

    Still, there is increasing cause to worry. The Taliban have grown powerful over the past two years in several northern provinces, particularly in the neighboring province of Konduz. Already the militia regularly attacks fuel trucks traveling from the Tajik border through Konduz and Baghlan provinces to the coalition's base at Bagram airport near Kabul.

    Asghary says that U.S. officers initially visited his headquarters and promised help, including with constructing fortified perimeters around the posts. But they have not returned since and he does not know whether the aid will ever arrive. His own budget is not enough to do more than the minimum needed to fortify and winterize the outposts.

    For now, guarding the railroad is light work and construction goes on unimpeded.

    Lack Of Technical Skills

    Each day the police escort the Uzbek workers building the railroad to their construction site and then escort them home again to their camp in Hairaton.

    The entirely Uzbek team is doing the work because Afghanistan long ago lost the equipment and technical skills needed for the job. But once the railway is built, some of the Uzbek technical staff will stay on to train Afghan personnel and create the basis for Afghans to extend the track further themselves in the future.

    Sangar says the country today has nowhere near the money needed to build a railway network connecting its different regions. But the track which will soon be finished in Mazar-e Sharif, plus another track currently being built in Iran toward the Afghan border, create the starting points for a wider system.

    Iran has reportedly completed two-thirds of a 190-kilometer rail bed from its town of Khaf to link with Herat.

    If Herat were one day connected by rail to Mazar-e Sharif, some 700 kilometers away, northern Afghanistan would not only acquire a major rail line but also become a transit country for the shortest rail link between the Central Asian countries and the Gulf or Indian Ocean ports.

    Whether that rail line is built will depend upon outside funding. The Asian Development Bank is funding technical surveys for such a track across northern Afghanistan but has made no commitments.

    Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/Afghanistans_First_New_Railroad_On_Track/2190489.html
     
  8. Rage

    Rage DFI TEAM Stars and Ambassadors

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    Mashallah! What a beautiful country and beautiful people! God! I love Afghanistan! And Afghanis!

    If anyone of you've never seen this, watch the documentary Afghanistan: War Without End . Among other things, it'll tell you why Gautama Buddha was depicted that way, in paintings and art! And how India and Persia supported the victors of the Afghan war against the Soviets, Ahmad Shah Masoud! Until the rabid Pakistanis propped up and supported the Taliban. In what was one of its darkest periods, Afghanistan ever saw.
     
  9. Daredevil

    Daredevil On Vacation! Administrator

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    Glad to see that there will be railways in place in Afghanistan. Railways is usually a backbone for any country for efficient transporting of the goods in a timely manner. Just make sure that pak-supported Taliban are kept away and also shy away from buying Chinese manufactured locomotives.
     
  10. sandeepdg

    sandeepdg Senior Member Senior Member

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    Its good to see that railroads are coming back to Afghanistan after so long, but its all about the security that the government can provide to protect these important national assets. If they can, then this can be great means of economic progress for the Afghans.
     
  11. Oracle

    Oracle New Member

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    Nice post. With developments like these, that day is not far when Afghanistan's economy will laugh at Pakistan. GoI should invest more in Infrastructure projects there and thereby cement India's relations with Afghanistan.
     
  12. Virendra

    Virendra Moderator Moderator

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    This is good news.
    An improving infrastructure will drive progress everywhere else. India has actually been engaged in civilian work there already - building/repairing schools, hospitals, roads etc - not to forget the Zaranj Delaram line to Iran.
    Good luck to afghans.

    Regards,
    Virendra
     
  13. sesha_maruthi27

    sesha_maruthi27 Senior Member Senior Member

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    Atleast the U.S. is constructing some rail routes after plundering each and every building in Afghaistan. Some development is taking place.
     
  14. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

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    Mate, it was a road between Zaranj and Delaram. However, I think India did do some work in railway infrastructure in Iran leading to the Afghan border.

    -Regards-
     
  15. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

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    Here is the Friendship Bridge, built during the Soviet era that connected USSR (Uzbek SSR) with Afghanistan. It is part of the railway today and is a well guarded infrastructure. The picture of this bridge in black and white shows Soviet Army BTRs crossing the bridge during the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan, Feb. 15, 1989..

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