Sun, Mar 14, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Kazakhstan officials plan new route from China to Europe

THE GUARDIAN , MOSCOW

For years it has trundled a slow and solitary path across the vast expanses of the Siberian tundra.

But now the Trans-Siberian railway will face its first direct competitor as the overland route from China to Europe when a new railway is built to straddle the steppes of Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan announced on Friday that it would complete within four years a 3,200km track from China on its eastern border to Europe. It will cost an estimated US$3.5 billion and be able to transport 40 billion tonnes of goods a year.

After crossing Kazakhstan, itself the size of western Europe, the railway would either cut south through Iran or cross through Russia, the fastest route to mainland Europe.

Kanat Zhangaskin, the vice-president of the Kazakhstan National Railway Company, said while in Hong Kong looking for investors for the project, that "after completion of the railway, a container from Hong Kong and other places in China could be directly transported to Europe", according to the Xinhua news agency.

The plan, which would create one of the most modern and longest railway lines in the world, will offer an unbroken journey through expanses of steppe dominated over the centuries by Genghis Khan, the Russian tsarist armies and the Soviet Union.

A parallel project will run from Bangladesh through the Indian subcontinent, and on to Iran.

A tunnel through the Turkish Bosporus Straits would complete the journey to mainland Europe without the new links having to cross into Russian territory.

At present, most goods sent from China to Europe go by sea, as road and rail routes pass through the bureaucratic Russian customs regime.

Mr Zhangaskin said the railway would greatly increase China's ability to ferry goods to the outside world.

Cargo sent between China, Iran and Turkey would reach US$2 billion a year, and the total between Asian and European countries would be US$7 billion as a result of the railway.

At present, the Trans-Siberian railway takes European rail traffic from Moscow across Russia's 11 timezones.

It passes through the Volga territory of Yaroslavl, through the Ural mountain town of Ekaterinburg, to Irkutsk, and then on to Vladivostok on the Pacific coast.

However, many travellers and goods opt for the second, Trans- Manchurian route, which leaves the Trans-Siberian's route at Tarskaya, a few hundred miles east of Lake Baikal, and then heads south-east into China, bound for Beijing.

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