Afghanistan needs massive investments for its transport system

Asian Development Bank has elaborated “Afghanistan Transport Sector Master Plan Update 2017-2036”, a study which recommends a series of actions that supports the development of the national transport system and the increase of the integration level with regional and international systems. The document analyses each mode of transport and the need to allocate investments to develop the entire transport network which requires USD 26 billion.

With a unique geographical position, providing connection between Middle East-China and Central Asia-South Asia, Afghanistan has the opportunity of becoming a regional hub for trade, transit and economic development. These aspects impose the development of the transport infrastructure for which Asia Development Bank (ADB) updated the Transport Master Plan for 2017-2036. “The updated plan recommends several urgently needed actions to help Afghanistan deliver on its wider development goals,” said Sean O’Sullivan, Director General of ADB’s Central and West Asia Department.
According to ADB, investments estimated at USD 26 billion are necessary over the next two decades in order to meet the objectives. The development of road transport will require the largest amount of funds (USD 13 billion) followed by rail transport with necessary investments amounting to USD 11.2 billion, representing 43% of the total necessary investments. The development of logistics requires USD 300 billion.
“The expansion of a strong and efficient transport infrastructure is the backbone of connectivity. The master plan lays out the future path of transport infrastructure development and maintenance in the country,” Mahmood Baligh, Minister of Public Works for Afghanistan said.
Conflicts of over 2 decades in Afghanistan have destroyed the transport infrastructure, while significantly reducing human resources and diminishing the institutional capa-city to manage the transport system. According to ADB, as of 2002, authorities and development partners have invested around USD 4.5 billion to rebuild the infrastructure and the institutions. Afghanistan’s transport system includes railways, roads, air transport and waterways. In 2014-2015, road transport generated 7.3 million tonne-km, while railway traffic stood at 100 million tonne-km. The poor condition of railway infrastructure was the cause for the fall of freight transport from 4 million tonnes in 2011 to 2.4 million tonnes in 2014.

As of 2011, since the launch of the 75 km-long Hairatan – Mazar-e-Sharif railway, connected to Uzbekistan’s railway network, there has been a series of proposals for the development and integration of the railway network which are still in different planning phases.
Railway traffic mainly relies on imports from Uzbekistan and the arrival of the first cargo train from China to Hairatan (2016) is encouraging as it could generate a boost of railway traffic. The railway is part of transport corridors 3 and 6 of CAREC and connects Central Asia to South Asia, Caucasus and Middle East. According to Afghanistan Railway Authority (AfRA), the network could be extended to the west, from Herat, through the cities of Sheberghan, Andkhoy, Aqina with connections to Turkmenistan, and, in the east, through Kunduz and Sherkhan Bandar to Sheberghan, Andkhoy, Aqina Tajikistan, part of another project called Northern Afghanistan Railway.

USD 11 billion for railways

The government’s rail network development strategy includes two axes. The Northern Railway will provide links to Iran, starting from Herat following Torghundi-Sheberghan-Aqina-Mazari-Sharif route and, further to Hairata at the border with Uzbekistan. The Southern Railway will connect the Afghan cities Zaranj, Delaram, Chaman and Bamyan. In fact, the north railway will ensure the transport of ores to the ports of Pakistan and Iran, while the south railway will focus on cargo transport. ADB strategy for railway infrastructure development includes the entire Railway National Plan of Afghanistan which is over 5,000 km, covering multimodal hubs as well. Investments are estimated at USD 11.2 billion. The National Plan marks the launch of the system development aimed to become competitive and take over a significant share of road traffic.
The first two priorities of Afghanistan Railway Authority (AFRA) are the development of subsections as they are considered lines that will feed into the network. ADB’s study found that Herat–Kunduz railway is vital for the network and will become the mainline of the Northern Line, connecting the country’s northern region to the north-eastern region on over 1,000 km. The extension of this railway to the east to China (Kunduz–Badakhshan–Wakhan) will become important for the railway system as soon as transit through Badakhshan Valley becomes possible (Badakhshan Valley is part of Badakhshan Region which includes the north-eastern areas of Afghanistan and the south-eastern areas of Tajikistan).

For connections and integration of the country’s transport system, CAREC corridors play a very important role. Afghanistan is mentioned in 4 of the 6 CAREC corridors. Corridor 2: Mediterranean–East Asia, which connects the Caucasus and the Mediterranean region to East Asia, crossing Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz, China, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The network extension includes new railway connections and three projects from Afghanistan are included in the action plan for the improvement of the strategy:

• The construction of Shirkhan Bandar–Kunduz–Kholam–Naibabad/Mazar-e-Sherif–Sheberghan– Andkhoy–Meimana–Qala-e-Naw–Herat Railway (1,000 km), at a minimum estimated cost of USD 2 billion; the feasibility study is completed and the project is due in 2020
• The construction of the 38-km long Aqina–Andkhoy Railway (Turkmenistan–Afghanistan), estimated at USD 75 million; the feasibility study for this railway is completed too and the project could be implemented in 2017-2020
• The construction of Turghondy–Herat Airport Railway with a length of 170 km; the feasibility study for this project is underway and expected to be completed in 2020.

Afghanistan is also part of Corridor 3: Russian Federation–Middle East and South Asia, connecting Russia to the Middle East and South Asia. It is the only corridor for which the majority of investments in the implementation of the action plan is dedicated to railway projects. Most projects will be in Afghanistan to complete the link between Andkhoy and Shir Khan Bandar connecting Tajikistan to Turkmenistan, via Afghanistan.
Connecting East Asia to Middle East and South Asia, Corridor 5 crosses China, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The corridor will be extended, but, at least in Afghanistan, there will be road projects.
Corridor 6, connecting Europe and Russia to Middle East and South Asia, is connected to the other corridors too – 1, 2, 3, 5, and the significant changes in this corridor will include, among others, railway projects from the north of Afghanistan.
The new railway is built with the support of ADB and that of the Islamic Development Bank (for another section) and will cross on 800 km the Aktau Port (Kazakhstan) to Etrek (Turkmenistan, at the border between Turkmenistan and Iran, intersecting the Turkmen railway network in Bereket from where the new corridor will be extended through Ashgabat (Turkmenistan), Mary city (Turkmenistan), intersecting Corridor 2. Then, it will go further to south, crossing Afghanistan and intersecting Corridor 3 through the Road Ring from Herat (Afghanistan). From here, it will also have other routes to Pakistan. Next to other partners, ADB participates actively to the development of the country’s economy, supporting transport, energy and natural resources projects. So far, ADB’s financing amounts to USD 1 billion, but projects with a total cost of up to USD 3 billion have been approved.

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