Azerbaijan’s railroad alternative

By: Emil Ismayilov

Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Iran commissioned a railway on Dec.3, which can become a peculiar alternative to the project with the participation of Azerbaijan.

Both projects not only have the same North-South name, but are also focused on the delivery of goods to Iran and on the Persian Gulf coast. However, they serve different purposes, since their participants have different interests.

Commissioning of the new railway will make it possible for Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to provide transport of their own goods (grain, cotton and others) to Iran and the Persian Gulf states.

But the realization of the project of connecting the railway systems of Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran is more global in nature and will make it possible to transport goods to the south, not only from Russia, but also Northern Europe, as well as in the opposite direction.

The railway project as part of the “North-South” corridor is actively supported by Russia, up to the point of Moscow’s desire to actively participate in the railway infrastructure construction of Iran and Azerbaijan.

The route through Azerbaijan has another advantage compared to transportation through Central Asia, namely the length. Northern Europe and western Russia, which are the main sources of cargo, are closer to Baku than to the east coast of the Caspian Sea.

However, Iran gets the largest profit from this project. Tehran will act as a transit territory for both projects. This will significantly increase the country’s income, as well as diversify its transport routes. After the significance of these routes increases, Iran will strengthen its influence on the Arab countries’ markets, which traditionally shun this country.

However, despite all differences, both projects through Azerbaijan and Central Asia can create a ring railway around the Caspian Sea. This proposal was put forward by Russian President Vladimir Putin during the summit of the heads of state of the Caspian Sea region in Astrakhan on Sept.29, 2014.

This ring railway will allow to link the ports of all the five littoral states in the Caspian Sea, to reduce the time and costs of transportation, as well as strengthen the integration of the Caspian Sea countries. Azerbaijan has already turned into an active participant of the global railway network thanks to its favorable geographical position.

The country is the initiator, active participant and investor of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) large railway project that will be a missing link of the railroad from Beijing to London, as well as the shortest route linking Europe and Asia.

Two participants of the new railway (Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Iran railway) – Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan – as well as Afghanistan, Pakistan and India show great interest in this project. BTK can also ensure the transportation of Iranian cargoes to Europe and backwards.

Shippers now have the main task: which route to choose? The choice should be made in favor of the route on which the cargo transportation will be faster and cheaper.