Originally completed in 1899, the railway was highly important during the Soviet era, both as the only rail link between Turkey and the USSR (Kars-Gyumri), and one of the two main railway connections between Armenia and other Soviet Republics (Gymri-Tbilisi). While the Gyumri-Tbilisi section remains Armenia's lifeline to the outside world, the Kars-Gymri section has not been operational since 1993, when Turkey following the Nagorno-Karabakh War between Armenia and Turkic-speaking Azerbaijan closed the border with Armenia in support for the Azeris in the war with Armenia.
Since the Kars–Gymri section has not been in operation due to the closed Turkish-Armenian border, in April 2005, an agreement was signed to build a direct connection across the Turkish-Georgian border from Kars to Georgia's Akhalkalaki, and to rehabilitate the existing railways from Akhalkalaki to Tbilisi to Baku, this creating the Kars–Tbilisi–Baku mainline. The European Union and the United States declined to assist in the financing or promoting of the new mainline because they saw it as designed to bypass Armenia, supporting instead the reopening of the Kars-Gyumri-Tbilisi railroad.
The railway was built in the late 19th century, when Georgia and Armenia, as well as the recently conquered Kars Oblast, all were parts of Russian Empire. By the late 1880s, the railway system of Russian Transcaucasia consisted of the mainline from Poti and Batum on the Black Sea to Tiflis (now Tbilisi) to Baku on the Caspian Sea, ran by the Transcaucasian Railway.
The on-site study of the future railway route from Tiflis (now Tbilisi) to Alexandropol (now Gyumri) to Kars were initiated in the spring of 1894 by the Imperial Ministry of Communications and the management of the Transcaucasian Railway. The construction work, led by engineer E. Wurzel (Russian: Е. Вурцель), was completed in December 1899.
During World War I, this railway was used to supply Russian troops fighting the Ottoman Empire in Anatolia. After the war, Turkey took possession of Kars, and re-gauged the part of the railway that was now in Turkey from the Russian gauge to the standard gauge.
During the USSR era, the Gyumri-Kars line became the only direct railway connection between the USSR and Turkey. Most of the time, the Soviet Armenian railway people at the last Soviet station, Akhuryan (the border station is apparently here: , although it may be not the main Akhuryuan station), had a fairly good working relationship with their Turkish colleagues at Doğukapı (station apparently here: ) on the Turkish side of the border. In the mid-1980s, the annual freight volume across the border was around 65,000 tons, peaking at 180,000 tons in 1989. This apparently was still much less than the railway's [potential] capacity, which was as high as 6,000,000 tons per year.
Until a crane for changing railcar bogies was purchased at Akhuryan - quite late in the border stations' history, almost right before the border was closed - the cargo had to be reloaded from Soviet rail cars to Turkish ones, and vice versa. The Turkish Doğukapı, on the other hand, has a crane for moving shipping containers between broad-gauge and standard-gauge cars.
In 1986, the construction of a 160-kilometer branch line from Marabda (on the Tbilisi-Gyumri line, 23 km south of Tbilisi Junction) west to Akhalkalaki was completed. This branch fell into disuse later on, but is being rehabilitated now as part of the future Kars–Tbilisi–Baku railway.
Closing of the Kars-Gyumri section
The last freight train crossed the Turkish-Armenian border on 6 July 1993. A few days later, the border between Turkey and Armenia was closed. The two governments agreed to exchange empty railcars (there were some empty Turkish cars left at the Armenian Akhuryan Station, and some Armenian ones at the Turkish Doğukapı), which was done on 11 July. Since then, no train has crossed the border.
The Gyumri-Tbilisi section is part of the Yerevan-Tbilisi mainline, and is Armenia's only functioning rail connection to the outside world, as Armenia's borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan are closed, and the direct Armenia-Iran rail link is still on the drawing board. During the Soviet era, this line was used by direct trains from Yerevan to Moscow and elsewhere in the USSR; but now trains from Armenia can only reach Georgia, because Georgia's rail connection with Russia has been severed due to the Abkhazian war, and Georgia's rail link to Azerbaijan is of little use to Armenians.
- "INFRASTRUCTURE (Armenia)". Jane's Information Group. Archived from the original on 2012-08-26.
- Fears of Turkey's 'invisible' Armenians, BBC News
- Caucasian Review of International Affairs (CRIA)
- А.Э. Котов (A.E. Kotov), "Из истории Южно-Кавказской железной дороги" ("From the history of the South Caucasus Railway"), 17.07 2009. Includes a detailed map. (Russian)
- Рубен ГРДЗЕЛЯН (Ruben Grdzelyan), Тишина на границе ("Quiet on the border") (Russian)
- Noyan Soyak : « Nous voulons que les USA octroient un statut spécial à la zone frontalière» (French)
- Distances are form the map in Kotov (2009)
- History of the Georgian Railways (in English), or History of the Georgian Railways (Russian)