Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan have launched a direct railway linking their oil-and-gas-rich Caspian Sea regions, bypassing Uzbekistan. The new line promises to benefit "tens of countries" in the region, opening the remote areas to major markets, says Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Kazakhstan's state-run Kazinform news agency reports that Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov and Nazarbayev opened the 869-kilometer stretch from Ozen in Kazakhstan to Etrek in Turkmenistan at their Bolashak-Serhetyak border crossing on May 11. The segment is designed to link up to the Iranian rail network.
"Not only will the new railway simplify exports of our goods but it will also attract transit shipments," Kazinform quoted Nazarbayev as saying at the opening ceremony. Reduced delays will offer the two sides “a significant competitive advantage."
Berdymukhamedov, who was in Kazakhstan on a state visit May 10 and 11, praised the new line, too. "Our project also means a connection to transport infrastructure in the eastern direction with access to such economic centers of global development as China, India and the Asia-Pacific," Kazinform quoted him as saying.
The two leaders also launched a new fiber-optic data line, which should link Kazakh networks with those of Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Iran, and Turkmen networks (such as they exist) with Russia, Eastern Europe and Asia via Kazakhstan.
Landlocked Central Asian countries are often burdened by broad transport rivalries and suspicions. While closely cooperating in building new export routes for their hydrocarbons, they often shy away from transport teamwork.
One problem for anyone seeking to foster regional integration in Central Asia (“New Silk Road” or otherwise) is the frequent border disputes between the countries involved. Uzbekistan, which abuts all the other Central Asia states, has been particularly uncooperative, often closing its border posts without notice, hampering trade and hurting economies around the region.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB), a multilateral lender, has announced it will grant $100 million to help people and goods cross one of those tricky borders. Much of the money will be used to repave a 113-kilometer stretch of road in Tajikistan connecting a major highway with an isolated valley leading to the border with Uzbekistan.
“Improvements to this road will increase regional connectivity, reduce transport costs, and strengthen competitiveness,” said Zheng Wu, a transport specialist at ADB’s Central and West Asia Department, in a September 13 press release. Part of the money will also be spent on upgrading infrastructure at the Sarazm border post on the Uzbekistan-Tajikistan frontier.
But that post has been closed for almost two years. Uzbekistan sealed it in late 2010, cutting Panjakent – a Tajik town in the valley, home to some 33,000 people – off from the Uzbek city of Samarkand, only 60 kilometers away.
The new road project, expected to begin later this year, will certainly help connect the isolated Zarafshan Valley with the rest of Tajikistan, and thereby with a new source for the goods and supplies local residents used to buy in Uzbekistan. At present, in winter Zarafshan’s access to the “mainland” is often restricted to irregular flights to Dushanbe.
Workers put the final touches on Almaty's new metro system just in time for Kazakhstan's 20th anniversary party.
Almaty commuters’ 23-year wait ended this week as their city’s metro finally slid open its doors, just in time for Kazakhstan’s 20th independence anniversary.
Construction began back in 1988, when Almaty was known as Alma-Ata and was capital of Soviet Kazakhstan. At that time the city’s population hit the one million mark, which gave it the right under Soviet regulations to its own underground network. Hard times after Kazakhstan’s independence in 1991 halted work. Now the country is awash with cash from its vast natural resources and construction began again in recent years.
The gleaming stations, lavishly adorned with marble, granite and ornate statuary, are worthy of comparison with Moscow's magnificent 1930s terminals. At the moment only one line with seven stops follows Almaty's Soviet-era center, but plans are underway for a second line.
When I rode the metro home on Friday there were long lines at the three windows to buy tokens and pre-paid cards. The yellow plastic jetons look to have come straight out of Soviet central planning.
Will the metro wean the good people of Almaty off their car addiction or just divert passengers from other forms of public transportation? Kazakhstan's commercial capital has undergone a rapid transformation since Soviet times and its new business districts are far from the reach of the metro, so we may have to wait, again, until a new line is completed to see any noticeable effect on the city's notorious traffic congestion.
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