|Locale||Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan|
|Dates of operation||Under construction (planned for 2014)–|
|Length||826 kilometers (61 mi) (new construction)|
The Kars–Tbilisi–Baku railway, or Kars-Akhalkalaki-Tbilisi-Baku railway, is a regional rail link project to directly connect Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan. The project was originally to be completed by 2010, but was previously delayed to 2013. In February 2014 Azerbaijan's Transportation Minister, Ziya Mammadov, stated that the project wouldn't be completed before the second half of 2015 and new sleeping coaches will not enter service until 2016/17.
The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars project is built to create a energy corridor by rail mainly supplied by Azerbaijan. In addition to that, the current traffic from Turkey to CIS countries will shift to this line. Since current traffic via Iran is facing with long delays in Van Lake and Saraks, opening of this line may cause a shift to railway. The line is expected to have a annual volume of 6,5 million to at the beginning. Target is 17 million to/year in long term.
In 1986, the construction of a 160 kilometers (99 mi) branch railway line from Marabda (on the Tbilisi-Gyumri line, 23 kilometers (14 mi) south of Tbilisi Junction) west to Akhalkalaki was completed. However, this branch fell into disuse later on.
History of the Project
The project of a railroad between Azerbaijan and Turkey through Georgia was first discussed in July 1993, after the Kars–Gyumri–Tbilisi railway, which goes through Armenia, was closed. The new railway link is intended to provide an alternative route to the existing Kars–Gyumri–Tbilisi railway line, which has been out of use since 1993, when Turkey closed its border with Armenia to support Azerbaijan in its conflict with Armenia following the Nagorno-Karabakh War. A multi-lateral accord to build the link was signed by the three countries in January 2005. Because of a lack of funding at this time, this project was more or less abandoned. However, during the inauguration of the Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan pipeline on May 2005, the Presidents of Azerbaijan, of Georgia and of Turkey evoked once again the possibility of building a railroad between their three countries.
For the construction of the railroad on Georgian territory, Azerbaijan is providing a US$220 million loan to Georgia, repayable in 25 years, with an annual interest rate of 1%. A concessional loan agreement for this financing has already been signed between a Georgian state-owned company Marabda-Karsi Railroad LLC and Azerbaijan. As of September 2007, the State Oil Fund of Azerbaijan has allocated the first US$50 million installment of this loan. The European Union and the United States declined to assist in the financing or promoting of the line because they saw it as designed to bypass Armenia, supporting instead the reopening of the Kars-Gyumri-Tbilisi railroad. Armenia used its strong lobbies in Washington like ARMENPAC or the Armenia National Committee in America to pressure the US Congress on the funding of the railroad.
In February 2007 in Tbilisi, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey signed a trilateral agreement to launch the construction of the railroad the same year. On November 21, 2007, the presidents of Azerbaijan - Ilham Aliyev, Georgia - Mikheil Saakashvili, and Turkey - Abdullah Gül inaugurated the construction of the railroad at a groundbreaking ceremony at the Marabda junction south of Tbilisi, and the first rails in Turkey began to be laid in July 2008 from Kars.
The Russian-Georgian-Ossetian conflict (2008 South Ossetia war) and environmental problems delayed the project, which was originally to be completed by 2010, but as of August 2013 is scheduled for completion by 2014.
In November 2014, Turkey's Transportation Minister, Lütfi Elvan, stated that 83% of the project has been completed. According to estimates, the railway line will be capable of carrying 17 million tons of cargo and about three million passengers by 2030.
Objectives and political issues
The key objective of the project is to improve economic relations between the three countries and gaining foreign direct investment by connecting Europe and Asia. Some commentators in Armenia have viewed this new route as an attempt by Azerbaijan to bypass and isolate Armenia from regional economic projects. However, the route through Armenia was politically impossible due to the unresolved war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the status of Nagorno-Karabakh.
According to Samuel Lussac, "[the project] will contribute to further regional cooperation between Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey," but it will also, "constitute a new stage in the further marginalization of Armenia within the South Caucasus." The president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev in 2005 reportedly declared, "If we succeed with this project, the Armenians will end in complete isolation, which would create an additional problem for their already bleak future."
In total 105 kilometers (65 mi) of new line will be built between Kars and Akhalkalaki, with 76 kilometers (47 mi) within Turkey and 29 kilometers (18 mi) in Georgia. The existing railway line from Akhalkalaki to Marabda and on to Tbilisi and Baku will be modernized.
Its total length will be 826 kilometers (513 mi) and it will be able to transport 1 million passengers and 6.5 million tons of freight at the first stage. This capacity will then reach 3 million passengers and over 15 million tons of freight.
Georgia and Azerbaijan both use the broad gauge of 1,520 mm (4 ft 11 27⁄32 in), and the existing rail lines (from Akhalkalaki east) will continue using it. The new tracks (both the Georgian section from Akhakalaki to the border station Kartsakhi (Georgian: კარწახი) and the Turkish section) will be on standard gauge used by Turkey. The line will therefore feature a break-of-gauge near Akhalkalaki, which would require building a facility there for bogie exchange and/or cargo reloading. Passenger trains will apparently be of the Talgo type, i.e. with variable-gauge axles, to spare passengers the time needed to change from one gauge to another.
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