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GROUNDBREAKING CEREMONY FOR BAKU-TBILISI-KARS RAILROAD LINE

Hasan KANBOLAT
03 July 2008 - Today's Zaman
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="justify">Dubbed the “Iron Silk Road,” the groundbreaking ceremony for the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad project (BTK) is expected to take place at the Kars railroad station on July 24, with the attendance of Turkish President Abdullah Gül, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili.

menia via Turkey and splits into three different directions. The first one reaches Georgia by way of Kars, Gymru, Ayrum, Marneuli and Tbilisi; the second reaches Azerbaijan by way of Ichevan, Kazak and Baku; the third goes to Azerbaijan also by way of Kars, Gymru, Yerevan, Nakhchivan, Megri and Baku. Turkey’s move to close its border gates -- namely, the Alican highway border gate and the Akyaka railroad border gate -- to Armenia in April 1993 during the Azeri-Armenian war included cutting off its railroad link to the former Soviet republics that passed through Armenia. Therefore, the European-Asian railroad network has not been in use, hindering Turkey from reaching Georgia through Armenia, Azerbaijan and the Russian Federation through Georgia and Ukraine, Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan) and China through the Russian Federation and Azerbaijan. Railroad transportation between Turkey and Central Asia and China is carried out through Iran.

Armenia, on the other hand, because of the closed Turkish-Armenian border, is also unable to make use of the European-Asian railroad network that comprises the east-west corridor, and is thus obliged to reach the world through its railroad by way of Iran. Armenia cannot use the Russian Federation-Abkhazia-Georgia-Armenia route, which constitutes the north-south corridor, either, as this route has been defunct since the Abkhaz-Georgian war in 1992. Turkey doesn’t find the idea of its railroad passing through just Armenia in order to restore its railroad connection with the Caucasus and Central Asia sufficiently secure, even supposing that the Turkish-Armenian border gate was opened. To add to the crunch, the railroad line that passes through Armenia, not used since 1993, is seriously decrepit and damaged, with rails having been knocked out of alignment and ripped up in patches. For this reason, it is anticipated that repairs needed to reopen the line, in the event all the political problems are eradicated, would take a good few years.

The BTK project includes the construction of a direct line between Turkey and Georgia and the connection of this line with the current line in Azerbaijan. The BTK will be one of the most important connections between Asia and Europe, with a line to be constructed between China and Kazakhstan’s Aktau port over the Caspian area in the east, and in the west through the railway connection under the Bosporus -- thereby eventually presenting new opportunities in the field of passenger and freight transportation. It will also become a part of the trans-Asian railroad line with the Baku-Caspian-Türkmenba??-Almaty-China route. A 92-kilometer section of the 124-kilometer railroad will be in Turkey, with the remaining 32 kilometers passing through Georgia. Hence, as part of the project, Turkey will install rails for the 68-kilometer part to make it to the border, while Georgia will construct another 30 kilometers. Georgia will also rehabilitate the 160-kilometer line between Ahalkelek, Akhali and Marabda. The latter is projected to see completion by the end of 2011. The envisaged annual number of passengers to be carried by the BTK railroad line is 1.5 million and the envisaged annual amount of freight is 3 million tons. It is also envisioned that these numbers will go up to 3.5 million passengers and 16.5 million tons of freight by 2034.

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