Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey launch new Asia-to-Europe rail link

Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey launch new Asia-to-Europe rail link

Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey launch new Asia-to-Europe rail link

The leaders of Azerbaijan, Turkey and Georgia launched an 826-kilometer (500-mile) rail link connecting the three countries on Oct. 30, establishing a freight and passenger link between Europe and China that bypasses Russia.

The line, which includes 105 km of new track, will have the capacity to transport one million passengers and 6.5 million tons of freight. This capacity will rise to three million passengers and 17 million tons of freight by 2034.

The 826-km (513-mile) railway project connecting Baku with the northeastern Turkish province of Kars via Tbilisi was launched in 2007 and construction began in 2008.

The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railway project is a crucial step for the region’s future, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said at the inauguration ceremony in Baku on Oct. 30.

“The most important leg of the Middle Corridor Project [to unite Europe and Asia via Anatolia] has been fulfilled with the first service of the BTK railway,” Erdoğan said alongside Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev and Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili.

“Baku-Tbilisi-Kars is part of the Great Silk Road and it is important that we have implemented this project using our own funds,” he added, state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

“We are declaring the establishment of a continuous railway link from London to China,” he added.

The three countries are linked by the BP-led Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas line, but trade links between Turkey and the Caucasus region are limited. The new railway promises to provide an economic boost to the region. The new link will reduce journey times between China and Europe to around 15 days, which is more than twice as fast as the sea route at less than half the price of flying.

Trains can depart from cities in China, cross into Kazakhstan at the Khorgos Gateway, be transported across the Caspian Sea by ferry to the New Port of Baku, and then be loaded directly onto the BTK in order to head to Europe.

‘Creating value for region’

Erdoğan said the railway’s contribution to the region would not just be economic but “the project will politically bring peace, security and stability and, socially, it will bring welfare.”

For his part, Aliyev described the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars line as a “historic, global project,” praising the funding of the project by the region’s own resources.

“This project will bring our countries closer to each other. It will play its role in ensuring stability and security in the region. It will increase our economic capabilities and we will get a lot of funds,” he said, adding that the project was possible only thanks to the joint efforts of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey.

“We have not received any help from anywhere, we have not received any loans, we have built this railroad at the expense of domestic opportunities and put it into operation today,” Aliyev said, as quoted by Azerbaijan’s local news agencies.

The project’s total cost rose to more than $1 billion from an initial estimate of about $400 million, Reuters reported. The bulk of that financing came from Azerbaijan’s state oil fund.

Europe ‘voices interest’

Several European countries have expressed an interest in the project and Azerbaijan is in talks with them, Aliyev also said, adding that Kazakhstan and other countries in Central Asia are interested in transporting their goods via the BTK.

Kvirikashvili said the project was a “bridge between Asia and Europe.”

“This line will both tie economies and people together. Today, a new Eurasian bridge is being put into operation ... The project will have impetus to tourism and new jobs will be created,” he added.