Baku-Tbilisi-Kars is missing link between Europe and Asia

By Seymur Aliyev

Along with the importance of energy and food security for every sovereign country, world countries have another important issue - transport independence. The availability of multidirectional import and export routes for goods is related to numerous pipelines and hydrocarbon sale markets.


Azerbaijan has a regional leadership in this process as in energy projects. The country is at the crossroads of different transport routes following from North to South, East to West and back again due to its geopolitical location. The country is the initiator of the largest infrastructure projects in the region. One such is the opening of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway in 2013 initiated by Azerbaijan which has a special place. Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey are closely connected with such largest pipeline projects as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and the South Caucasus gas pipeline. Opening a new railway will bring these links to a new level.


The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway will be the final link in the transportation of goods between Europe and Asia. Today, the main point of moving goods in Asia is China, which has already expressed interest in the new cargo transportation route.


The goods for Central Asian countries and primarily Afghanistan, can take a significant transportation volume in the opposite direction. However, the large undeveloped natural resources of the country may become one of the components of the cargo flow from Asia to Europe.


Several years ago, the U.S geologists discovered huge reserves of lithium, iron, cobalt, gold and copper, totalling more than $900 billion, in Afghanistan. According to The New York Times, this country has iron reserves worth $421 billion, copper - $274 billion, niobium - $81.2 billion, cobalt - $50.8 billion, gold - $25 billion and molybdenum - $24 billion.


At present, Afghanistan receives cargo through Russia and Pakistan. However, the relations between Kabul's main ally - the U.S. and these countries are not unclouded. This leads to the need to find a new supply route and the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway may become most promising. It will be continued in the Caspian littoral and Central Asian countries thanks to a new and existing infrastructure.


At present, Azerbaijan is modernising the railway infrastructure on its territory. The construction of the most modern and the largest port on the Caspian Sea has been launched. The new port will be multimodal, because besides a logistics centre, a free economic zone is planned to be established in this area in the future.


A 400 hectare site has been allotted for the construction of the port complex. A transportation capacity of the complex in the first phase will reach about 10 million tons of cargo, about 40,000 TEU containers, Phase II about 17 million tons of cargo and about 150,000 TEU containers and Phase III up to 25 million tons of cargo and about one million TEU containers.


The importance of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars project for Baku also highlights the fact that Azerbaijan allocated a preferential loan worth $ 775 million for Georgia to construct and reconstruct the Georgian section of the railway.


The available infrastructure for container multimodal transportation using the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway will be the key to success. This type of cargo transportation has recently become important. This is confirmed by the fact that one should not expect large volumes of liquid cargo transportation.


First, several large oil pipelines have been laid from Azerbaijan to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. Second, there is a well-established route of transporting Turkmen and Kazakh liquid cargo to the Black Sea ports in Georgia. Thirdly, the effectiveness of liquid cargo transportation via railways over long distances is greatly reduced due to delivery times. So, apparently, the focus will be made to container shipping.


The fact that all countries participating in the project are TRACECA members is another advantage of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway. Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are the participants of this corridor. They have already expressed great interest in transportation of goods along this line. The sides will be able to negotiate special lowering tariffs and other benefits while transporting goods within the TRACECA unified platform.


The Marmara project implementation which is the railway tunnel under the Bosphorus will be another factor increasing the importance of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway. It will connect the railways of Turkey and Europe and as a result, ensure the delivery of goods via the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway to Europe.


The closer the time for completing the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway project, the more attention is being paid by potential shippers. This means the new railway, along with the oil and gas pipelines, will be another strategic project initiated by Azerbaijan and increasing its importance not only in the region, but in the whole continent.