In a statement delivered at a n international conference eon Afghanistan in Tashkent, Uzbek Deputy Minister of Transport, Zhasurbek Choriyev stated on July 26 that the Trans-Afghan railway Termez – Mazar-e Sharif – Kabul – Peshawar is planned to be built in five years. 

Fergana news agency says that according to Choriyev, an orthophoto survey of the railway route will start in early August and will be completed by early September.  

On the basis of the orthophoto survey, a feasibility study of the project will be conducted, and on the basis of the feasibility study, documentation will be developed for the tender for selection of the company for implementation of the project.  

A total length of the railway is supposed to be 760 kilometers and the project provides for construction of 33 railway bridges and three tunnels.  

The estimated budget for the construction of the Tans-Afghan railway is 4.8 billion U.S. dollars. 

Experts note that the Trans-Afghan railway project is gathering momentum as Uzbekistan seeks access to Pakistan’s seaports of Karachi, Gwadar, and Qasim, as part of Tashkent’s bid to diversify its supply routes and increase volumes of Euro-Asian trade.

The Diplomat notes that the geopolitical realignment and instability caused by the prolonged Russia-Ukraine conflict have overturned global calculations about supply routes, especially in Uzbekistan, meaning infrastructure projects previously thought unfeasible are now making progress.  One possible beneficiary is the Trans-Afghan Railway project, strongly pushed by Uzbekistan, which could now undergo a radical change to connect Tashkent with major potential export markets, including China and the EU.

Uzbekistan had reportedly already built a 75-kilometer rail link connecting Hairatan on the Uzbekistan-Afghanistan border to the city of Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan back in 2011.  However, due to high charges and operational issues, the section from Hairatan to Mazar-e-Sharif remains underutilized.  Instead, most rail freight from Uzbekistan to Afghanistan is currently transferred to road transport near the border at Termez or Hairatan.

The Trans-Afghan railway project, first proposed in December 2018 by Uzbekistan, aims at extending the Afghan rail network from Mazar-e Sharif to Kabul and then to Jalalabad province, where the railway would cross the Torkham border and run into Pakistan via Peshawar.  Once in Pakistan, goods will be offloaded to connect with the Pakistan rail system and from there will eventually travel down to the Pakistani seaports of Karachi, Gwadar, and Qasim.

The railway would have a planned capacity of up to 20 million tons of cargo per annum, and once operational it would slice the travel time for goods transiting from Uzbekistan to Pakistan from 35 days to just 3 to 5 days.