Kazakhstan will begin constructing a new railroad this year to link China with Europe and facilitate transportation between Asia-Pacific and Europe, a vice-president of Kazakhstan Railway Co., Ltd., announced recently. The new line is scheduled to be completed in four years.
Streamlined border crossings
This railway is part of the New Eurasia Land Bridge, which originates in the port city of Lianyungang on China's Pacific coast and runs via Lanzhou and Urumqi to the Alashankou crossing on the western frontier. The line connects there with Kazakhstan Railway, linking Lianyungang and other ports in east China directly by rail with Rotterdam, Holland and other European ports.
The New Eurasia Land Bridge links nearly 2.2 billion people in more than 40 countries and dramatically shortens the land transportation distance between the two continents.
Situated at the center of Eurasia, Kazakhstan serves as a pivot of the New Eurasia Land Bridge. For landlocked Kazakhstan, the line provides a link with international markets.
Trains in the former Soviet Union areas all run on 1,520 mm wide-gauge rails, while those in China and Europe are the 1,435 mm, international standard, narrow-gauge rails, making border crossings notoriously inconvenient.
At present, trade between China and Kazakhstan mainly depends on the railway, and two passenger trains run every week. Passengers shuttling between the two countries say they must wait for six hours at the border as every carriage is hoisted and the wheels replaced. Adding in customs and immigration formalities, it often takes eight hours to get across the border.
Cargo transportation is complicated as well, and damage of some goods is bound to occur as a result of the additional loading and unloading.
Sino-Kazakh trade flourishing
Goods transported via railway from Kazakhstan to China are mainly oil, cotton, nonferrous metal and steel. Products traveling in the other direction are largely staple consumer goods. Last year, railway cargo transportation at the Alashankou border crossing surged past 7.5 million tons. Trade between China and Kazakhstan totaled US$1.5 billion in 2001, US$2.0 billion in 2002 and leapt to more than US$3 billion last year.
Kazakhstan is China's second largest neighbor and its second largest trading partner in the Commonwealth of Independent States.
The new railway's annual carrying capacity will be 40 million tons. When it is complete, trains from Hong Kong and the mainland will be able to head directly for Europe without changing wheels at borders. Cross-border traffic of commodities from China, Iran and Turkey, including daily necessities and building materials, will reach US$2 billion each year, and the total amount for Asian and European countries will hit US$7 billion.
Kazakhstan seeks financing in HK
The 3,083-km line will cost an estimated US$3.5 billion to build and will be completed in four years. Construction of the railway will be funded by selling shares, with Kazakhstan holding 25 percent shares and foreign investors 75 percent. The company has dispatched a delegation to Hong Kong in the hope of attracting investment, and more than 100 industry insiders and potential investors have shown an interest.
China has long sought to expand its Central Asia transport routes. Currently China, Kyrghyzstan and Uzbekistan are cooperating on a three-party railway project.
(People's Daily March 18, 2004)