A railroad linking Turkmenistan and Afghanistan, part of a regional project called the Lapis Lazuli Corridor, was inaugurated in an official ceremony on November 28 overseen by the leaders of both nations.
Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov described developing transportation infrastructure as a top priority for his government and that railway and highway bridges traversing the Amudarya River are also to be put into commission in the coming days.
The goal of the Lapis Lazuli Corridor is to see Afghanistan connected to Turkey, and consequently Europe, through transit nations Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Georgia as part of a vision to relieve the country’s remoteness from lucrative trading routes.
Turkmenistan’s government portal cited Afghan President Ashraf Ghani as hailing the importance of the railway for international cooperation.
After a symbolic golden rail clamp was fixed into a place, a maiden consignment of 46 carriages crossed from Turkmenistan into Afghanistan.
The segment of newly inaugurated railroad stretches 88 kilometers from Atmyrat (formerly Kerki) in Turkmenistan to the Ymamnazar border crossing and ends in the Afghan settlement of Akina, the Turkmen state news agency reported. (Spelling for each of these locations vary wildly depending on transliteration or rendering). Two stations — Gulistan and Ymamnazar — have also been built from scratch along the route, the agency said.
Also on November 28, Turkmenistan inaugurated a oil products logistics hub at Ymamnazar that will handle goods coming along the freshly commissioned railway line. Turkmen state media have said the Ymamnazar facility has a capacity for 540,000 tons of oil products.
The intention for now is for oil goods to be offloaded onto vehicles, but this section of railway is itself only part of another regional transportation project, the TAT Railway, so called for the three countries involved: Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. The entire 400-kilometer route, which would also join up to a spur jutting south of Uzbekistan and linking up to Mazar-i-Sharif, is by some estimates slated for completion in 2018.
While being so diplomatically isolated, Turkmenistan is being joined to the outside world by ever more such transportation links. Earlier this year, the first shipment was sent along the recently completed China-Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Iran railway. That railroad extends around 10,000 kilometers and requires two weeks to cover.
This Afghan project is particularly valuable, however, in that it gives Turkmenistan the ability to broaden the market for its oil exports and thereby diversifying export routes.