Uzbekistan has moved forward with plans, announced in March, to build a railway link to the Fergana Valley that would bypass Tajikistan.
Citing Finance Ministry documents, Uzdaily.uz reported on July 24 that construction of the 125-kilometer electrified railway line from Angren in Tashkent Region to Pap in Namangan Region over the 2,200-meter Kamchik Pass has commenced.
"In 2016 we will complete the construction of the railway line and we will be able to get to the Fergana Valley, and Andijan in particular, by train," Uzdaily.uz quoted Uzbek President Islam Karimov as saying in April.
The $1.9 billion project, which envisions two tunnels through the mountains, is expected to be funded by the state budget, the national rail operator, and "loans from international financial organizations," the website noted, without providing details.
The project will allow Tashkent to abandon use of a Soviet-era, 110-kilometer rail link that cuts across Tajikistan's northern Sughd Province, and, thus, acquire transport independence.
Uzbekistan, which is already shipping freight to and from the Fergana Valley by road, now uses that international rail route for moving oil and petroleum products for a reported annual transit fee of $25 million.
Tajikistan and Uzbekistan share the most acrimonious bilateral relationship in Central Asia, in part because of Dushanbe's plans to build the world’s largest hydropower dam, Rogun. Rogun would allow Tajikistan to become independent of Uzbekistan’s unreliable gas deliveries. Tashkent says the dam will limit the flow of water it needs for agriculture. Last year, Karimov warned such projects could lead to war.
Though the rail link could further strain bilateral relations, it is likely to be welcomed in Bishkek, where officials are trying to interest China in a trans-Kyrgyzstan line that would connect to Uzbekistan’s rail network.