Indian Railways and the Silk Route

It is very good to see Logistics being used as a tool for Realpolitik. After all Logistics started as being a branch of the Army and used for wars.

 India is now seriously thinking about implementing the International North South Corridor linking Trans-Caspian Railway (Central Asian Railways) with Iran Railways and via sea to India.

Sketch showing railway lines of India, Iran and the Central Asian Republics

This is a multi-modal transport corridor which will link India to Moscow and the Central Asian Republics (Caucasus Republics). The International North-South Corridor was mooted by Russia, Iran and India in 2000. The participating countries are Oman, Tajikistan, Kazhakistan, Turkmenistan, Georgia, Armenia, Turkey, Ukraine, Azerbijan and Syria. After that for 11 years there was very little progress – more words and talk than action. Now work has started again.

This corridor will opens a shorter and chaper trade connection to the Central Asian Republics -Armenia, Azerbijan, Georgia, Krygistan, Kazhakistan, Turkmenistan,Tajikistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan – Russia and Turkey.

The reason for the renewed interest in the North-South Corridor is that the Iran-Pakistan-India oil pipeline seems to be a non-starter thanks to the deteriorating India Pakistan relations. So an alternate mode of transportation had to be created.

There does exist a direct route from India to Iran and onwards via Pakistan- Delhi-Amritsar- Lahore-Quetta-Tehran and onwards. Unfortunately, given our relations with Pakistan and the way the Pakistan Railways (which was run pretty effectively and efficiently) has been run to the ground, it is prudent, wise to have an alternate route to access the Caucasus. [ Given the way the politicians are playing with the Indian Railways, I hope and pray that the Indian Railways does not go the same way] .This also opens an alternate route to Afghanistan via Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan immediately.

The route to Moscow will be from the western ports in India to Bandar Abbas by ship. Then by rail to Astara on the Caspian Sea via Tehran, Qazvin,Rasht and Anzali. The railway line from Qazvin to Anzali and Astara (375kms) is being constructed by a Chinese company.

Till the railway line is constructed, the goods will go by truck or truck and train with transhipment at Qazvin. From Anzali by ship to the Russian caspian Sea Ports of Makhachakala (Petrovsk) or Astrakhan. [ Makhachakala is close to disturbed areas and security maybe a concern] . From Makhachakala or Astrakhan to Moscow via Volgograd. From Moscow, the whole of Europe is accessible by rail.

 India plans to expand Chah Behar (Bandar Behesht), and build a railway line from there to connect to the Iranian Rail system. India plans to build a 900 kms railway line from Chah Bahar to Hajigak in Afghanistan. SAIL has landed a contract for coal mining in Hajigak in Bamiyan Province and this railway line (Chah Bahah – Zahedan- Kandahar – Hajigak) will help in the logistics. This railway line will be on the Standard Gauge 1435mm. Also, Iran is constructing a railway line from Mashhad to Herat via Khaf.

 Turkmenistan

 The route to Turkmenistan will be Chah Bahar–> Kerman–>Mashhad–>Serakhs and onward to Ashagabat (the capital) or Turkmenbashi (Krasnovodsk, on the Caspian Sea) or Charjew/Farab or Dashhowuz and onto Uzbekistan. There will be break of gauge here as Iranian Railways is on 1435mm while the restwhile CIS Railways are on 1520mm.

 From Turkmenistan there is a short 10kms railway to Afghanistan; Gushgy to Touragondi, which the Soviets built to support their forces in Afghanistan.

 

Uzbekistan

The railway connection from Iran to Uzbekistan is via Turkmenistan – Mashhad–> Sarakhs–> Merv –>Charjou –> Bukhara.

The Uzbekistan Railways offers connections to Tashkent (capital), Bukhara and Samarkhand. In addition Uzbekistan offers connections to Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Kazhakistan, Krygistan and to Siberia/ Russian Far East.

 

Railway Map of Uzbekistan

 Tajikistan

From Uzbekistan to Tajikistan, the railway goes via Sariasya –> Dushanbe (the capital of Tajikistan). [ India has setup a humanitarian hospital in Tajikistan near Dushanbe.] 

Afghanistan

The story of railways in Afghanistan is very interesting. Here is a link to a well written account. http://www.irfca.org/docs/afghanistan.html If you are interested in latest information on Afghanistan Railways –> http://www.andrewgrantham.co.uk/

Contrary to popular notions, Afghanistan does have railway lines. There is a railway line to Afghanistan from Uzbekistan – Termez–>Galaba –> Mazar-e-Sharif. The Western Forces who have invaded and occupied Afghanistan, use the railways as their supply route, just like the Russians did when they invaded Afghanistan – Gushgy to Touragondi.

 The Chinese are extending the railway line from Mazar-e-Sharif to Kabul To Jalalabad and onto Pakistan Railways.

Krygistan

 Krygistan is connected to Uzbekistan via Kazakhstan Tashkent–> Taraz –> Bishkek.

 Kazhakistan

Kazhakistan has a modern railway. There are regular train services from Moscow to Astana and Almaty. The link from Iran to Kazhakistan is via Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan is connected to Kazhakistan, the largest of the Caucasus Republics. Astana and Almaty are the biggest cities and offer convenient connections to the huge Russian Railway System.

Armenia

 The Armenian Railways called for a tender for operating the Armenian Railways in 2007. RITES applied for the tender but withdrew. Finally the Russian Railways were awarded the rights to operate the Armenian Railways for 30 years with a further extension for 20 years.

Azerbijan

 In 2007 Iranian Railways signed an agreement to build a railway line Qazvin–>Resht–>Astara. This will connect Iran to Azerbijan.

There is a lot of railway development happening in the Caucasus Republics. The Silk Route which passed through the Caucasus Republics is thousands of years old and has a romantic and magical air about it. Hope the new railways developments will be able to match it’s ages old predecessor!

On an aside, for those of you who have a dream of travelling the Silk Route by train, the fabulous and fantastic website http://www.seat61.com/SilkRoute.htm#Tashkent%20-%20Samarkand%20-%20Bokhara gives all the information one can possibly want.

 The Indian government has good plans to develop it’s railway links with Iran, Russia and the Caucasus Republics. I hope the plans fructify and become a reality.

As I write this, I am reminded of a dialogue of Amitabh Bachchan in the movie “Lakshya”, where he quotes a Marathi proverb which translates to;

अपना घर तो संभलता नहीं, दुनिया पर राज करने चले

One who cannot manage one’s own home should not go out o rule the world

 [Those who have seen the movie will know the context in which this dialogue is spoken]

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