Construction of China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway possibly starts in autumn. Background and analysis.
Akylbek Japarov, the Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan (Photo: Government of Kyrgyzstan)

“The development of the railway industry is one of the priorities of the Cabinet of Ministers. In the fall, it is planned to launch the largest project in the history of our independence – the construction of a railway along the route China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan. We need to support this project,” said Akylbek Zhaparov, head of the Kyrgyzstani Cabinet of Ministers according to a report from Uzdaily.

The Cabinet of Ministers of Kyrgyzstan approved the main directions for the development of railway transport in Kyrgyzstan for 2022-2026. The Cabinet expects that this will not only create conditions for the long-term development and improvement of railway transport and infrastructure, but also ensure an increase in the level and quality of passenger and freight transportation by rail.

It takes more than 20 years to start. Background

In 1997, the idea of building the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan Railway was proposed for the first time. In this project, China and Uzbekistan are the more active parties. Kyrgyzstan has had a swaying attitude over the years. The actual situation is that they need to lay the longest railway line among the three parties and face a more complicated situation.

There has been a long-term debate in the choice of routes within Kyrgyzstan – China and Uzbekistan prefer a railway line with a shorter mileage, lower construction costs, and more efficient transportation, while Kyrgyzstan prefers a line connecting the country’s economic center, allowing railways bring more benefit to the country’s economic and social development.

Regarding the newly determined route, according to intermodalnews, the current route starts from Xinjiang, China, via Torugat and Kazarman to Jalal-Abad, Kyrgyzstan. The total length is about 440 kilometers: about 270 kilometers of track will be laid in Kyrgyzstan and about 170 kilometers in China. The planned route will have 95 railway bridges and 48 tunnels. Jalal-Abad has a direct rail connection with Uzbekistan, and goods can be easily transported to Uzbekistan.

There has also been controversy over the gauge. China prefers to build standard-gauge railways. However, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan prefer to use the existing broad-gauge railway system. Eventually China compromised on the issue.

Political factors may be the greater difficulty. In addition to the instability of the internal regime change in Kyrgyzstan, the external political environment must also take into account Russia’s power distribution in this region. Over the years, Russia has exerted influence in Central Asia, and the expansion of the broad-gauge railway system is a major means of enhancing its influence. There were also voices in the past few years that Russia would participate in the construction and provide funds to Kyrgyzstan. There is no doubt that Russia has interest on this project because of Kremlin’s intention to develop a North-South transport corridor. This makes the project more complicated.

For Kyrgyzstan, the start of this railway project construction will be a breakthrough. Since the outbreak of the epidemic, the supply chain of international transportation has been under tension. Shipping and road transportation  are severely affected, especially for the landlocked countries in Central Asia. Kyrgyzstan needs to open up a stable flow of goods, which is their fundamental need.