By Rashid Shirinov
The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railway, a highly important project to connect three countries of the region (Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey), is today fully ready for operation.
In addition to improving economic and tourism relations between the three neighboring countries, the project will create a rail connection between Central Asia and Europe.
Today, Javid Gurbanov revealed that the official ceremony for inauguration of the new railway will be held on October 30.
Chairman of Azerbaijan Railways told reporters that the travel time of freight trains running the railway will be less than 24 hours.
“We are currently preparing agreements with the Georgian and Turkish Railways for sending the first cargo. Currently, conditions are being created to send around 400,000 tons of grain, wood, and coal from Russia,” Gurbanov noted.
He further added that the BTK railway will start transporting passengers starting from 2018.
“As you know, we have purchased 30 railway cars that were produced by Swiss company Stadler using a special technology, and equipped with everything necessary for comfortable travel,” Gurbanov said.
Head of Azerbaijan Railways added that the travel from Baku to Kars will take about 16-18 hours.
“The Georgian part of the railway passes through the highlands, where the speed of the train will not exceed 60-70 kilometers per hour. Therefore, the travel time will be around 16-18 hours,” he explained.
Gurbanov added that tariffs for passenger transportation via BTK railway have not been discussed yet.
The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway was constructed on the basis of a Georgian-Azerbaijani-Turkish intergovernmental agreement. The line is intended to transport one million passengers and 6.5 million tons of freight at the initial stage. The capacity will then reach 3 million passengers and 17 million tons of cargo. The first test train on the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) route left Turkey for Georgia on July 20.
In the interview, Gurbanov also touched upon the local railway transportation within the country.
He noted that the Azerbaijan Railways plans to run high-speed trains from Baku to Ganja city next year, and the cost of the travel will be about $10-$14, according to preliminary estimates.
“The plane [from Baku] reaches Ganja for 40-45 minutes. But this is added the way to the airport, waiting for the flight, etc., which in the end makes 3.5-4 hours, while the cost of the ticket is 32 manats ($19). By bus the journey takes 6-7 hours. Our trains will reach the destination in about 4 hours,” Gurbanov said, adding that the trains will be very comfortable.
Since Ganja is the second largest city of Azerbaijan, there is a clear need to run high-speed trains between the two cities.
Gurbanov also spoke of the direct Baku-Nakhchivan railway route, saying that it will be created after the Iranian section of the North-South corridor is constructed.
He noted that there are two possible options of the railway connection between Baku and Nakhchivan: “The first option is a connecting branch from Kars to Sadarak, much of which will pass through the territory of Turkey. The cost of construction of such a line will cost $2-2.5 billion, and we don’t know if Turkey will invest in the creation of this branch."
“Meanwhile, in Iran, as you know, a railway within the North-South corridor is being build. In this regard, President Ilham Aliyev gave instructions to allocate a loan of $500 million for the construction of line worth $1 billion,” the head of Azerbaijan Railways said.
Gurbanov noted that upon completion of construction of the Iranian part of the railway, it will be possible to create a connection of 1,450-kilometers length between Baku and Nakhchivan through the territory of Iran.
“The railway will pass through Astara, Rasht, Tabriz, and Julfa. I hope we’ll be able to implement this project,” he added.
The North-South transport corridor, which will comprise the Baku-Nakhchivan route, is intended to connect Northern Europe with South-East Asia, thus combining the railways of Azerbaijan, Iran and Russia.
Rashid Shirinov is AzerNews’ staff journalist, follow him on Twitter: @RashidShirinov
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