The Trans-Asian Railway evokes the Silk Road of centuries past, are there any similarities?
Much as yesterday's Silk Road today's Trans-Asian Railway aims to serve cultural exchanges and trade within Asia and between Asia and Europe. However, the network covers a much wider territory than its legendary predecessor and, needless to say, reaches a much bigger population.
What does the current Trans-Asian
Railway network represent?
The Trans-Asian Railway is a network of 114,000 kilometers selected by 28 countries as vital arteries for the development of their international trade. They provide regional connectivity and linkages to Europe via the Russian Federation and the Middle-East via the Islamic Republic of Iran.
How did the routes of the
network gain their international recognition as Trans-Asian
The lines selected to be part of the Trans-Asian Railway had to serve the network's primary objective to be a tool for international trade. As a result, countries of the region agreed that these lines had to link or provide access to (i) capital cities; (ii) main industrial and agricultural centres; (iii) major air, sea and river ports; and (iv) major container terminals and depots.
When was the Trans-Asian Railway project initiated?
As early as 1960, when ESCAP was known as ECAFE (Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East), the Commission already felt a need for linking the railways network of neighbouring countries in order to provide international connections and in 1967 ECAFE's Inland Transport and Communications Committee recommended that a large railway network be created with the co-operation of all railway administrations in the region with the objective of eventually linking countries of the region with those in Europe and South-West Asia by a Trans-Asian Railway.
How did the concept progress since this early inception?
The ambitious project proved popular from its very start. However, in the 1960s and 1970s, a number of conflicts as well as more limited international economic exchanges came in the way of concrete actions towards its realization.
A more favourable environment came in the 1980s and early 1990s, with the return of peace to South-East Asia, the emergence of independent countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia, and the adoption of market-oriented economic principles in many countries. This resulted in a growth in international trade which gave new impetus to infrastructure projects and green-flagged a new beginning for the Trans-Asian Railway.
What role did UNESCAP play
in reviving the Trans-Asian Railway?
Recognizing the sudden growth in international trade and the pressure that this was putting on the region's transport infrastructure, the 48th Commission session Commission (April 1992) launched the Asian Land Transport Infrastructure Development (ALTID) project to improve transport linkages within Asia as well as between Asia and its main trading partners in Europe. The project was articulated around three components, namely: the Asian Highway, the Trans-Asian Railway, and facilitation of land transport with the objective of helping countries meet the new transport requirements generated by globalization. This challenge quickly captured the interest and imagination of transport officials in the member countries.
did UNESCAP implement the Trans-Asian Railway component
of the ALTID project?
The implementation of the Trans-Asian Railway project followed three closely-linked phases, namely: a phase of network
identification through four corridor
studies (1994-2001), a phase of network
operationalization through the
implementation of demonstration runs of container block-trains
(1997-2005) and a phase of network
formalization through the negotiation
and finalization of the Intergovernmental Agreement on
the Trans-Asian Railway Network (2001-2006).
Does the Trans-Asian Railway network offer full connectivity in its present configuration?
The 114,000-km network still includes 8,300 km of missing links. While continuous rail infrastructure already links Asia's Far East with Europe via China, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, the Korean Peninsula and the Russian Federation, the situation is somewhat different in other subregions.
However, progress is taking place. The railways of the Islamic Republic of Iran have just completed the Kerman-Zahedan rail link allowing through movements to Pakistan and beyond to India and Bangladesh; and the Governments of Lao PDR and Thailand have just put into operation a line section allowing cross-border rail traffic. Other ongoing projects are being implemented across the region. In Cambodia, work is taking place to restore the 48-km line section between Poipet and Sisophon which will eventually reconnect the country's rail network with that of Thailand. In the Islamic Republic of Iran, the railways are currently constructing the 380-km Qazvin-Astara line section that will complete the North-South Corridor and offer direct rail movement between the Baltic Sea and the Persian Gulf through the Russian Federation and Azerbaijan. In another development, the Governments of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey are cooperating to construct a 105-km rail section between Kars (Turkey) and Akhalkalaki (Georgia). Other missing links have been earmarked as priority projects by concerned countries such as the 219-km Jiribam-Moreh line section that will extend India's rail system to the border with Myanmar.
What level of investment will completing and upgrading the Trans-Asian Railway network require?
Building the 8,300 km of missing links will require an estimated US$ 25 billion. Upgrading existing routes will increase this amount. Already a frenzy of investment is noticeable across the region. The Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran doubled its railway investment budget for 2008-09 and in Turkey the proportion of state funding allocated to rail within the Ministry of Transport has risen from 6% in 2002 to 42% in 2008. In India, the Ministry of Railways has earmarked an investment budget of US$ 46 billion over its 11th five-year plan (2008-2012), while in China the Ministry of Railways plans to spend US$ 88 billion per year over the period 2010 to 2012. In the ASEAN subregion, the Government of Thailand is planning to spend US$ 3.75 billion over 2008-2016, while in Viet Nam, the Government is planning massive investment on its rail system, including US$ 9.86 billion on the development of the Lao Cai-Hanoi-Haiphong and Dong Dang-Hanoi corridors.
Where does the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Trans-Asian Railway Network fit into the region's policy to develop its transport infrastructure?
The Intergovernmental Agreement on the Trans-Asian Railway Network is the second treaty to have been developed under the auspices of ESCAP and be deposited with the Secretary-General of the United Nations. The fact that it enters into force in the year marking the 60th anniversary of ESCAP's presence in Thailand gives it even greater significance. It supplements the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Asian Highway Network that entered into force on 4 July 2005. The two Agreements will promote the development of high-performance transport systems that are environmentally-friendly and play on the strengths of each mode to provide seamless mobility for people and industry.
What were the milestones in negotiating the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Trans-Asian Railway network?
The Intergovernmental Agreement on the Trans-Asian Railway Network was negotiated at the subregional level through a series of expert meetings. It was finalized by government representatives in Bangkok in November 2005 and adopted by the 62nd session of the Commission (Jakarta, Indonesia) through resolution 62/4 of April 2006. It was opened for signature on 10 November 2006 during the Ministerial Conference on Transport (Busan, Republic of Korea, 6 to 11 November 2006). At that time 18 countries signed the Agreement. Four more countries joined the original signatories over 2007 and 2008 (click here for table of signatories and Parties).
Why brings the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Trans-Asian Railway Network into force on 11 June 2009?
Article 5 of the Agreement stipulates that the Agreement shall enter into force on the ninetieth day following the date on which the Governments of at least eight member States have consented to be bound by its terms. This prerequisite was met on 13 March 2009 when China became the eighth Party to the Agreement by depositing its approval of the agreement with the Secretary-General of the United Nations. At that time the other countries to have already done so were: Cambodia, India, Mongolia, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Tajikistan and Thailand. Since then the Government of Georgia has also deposited its approval of the agreement with the Secretary-General of the United Nations.
How will the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Trans-Asian Railway network function?
The Intergovernmental Agreement on the Trans-Asian Railway Network lays a framework for the coordinated development of rail routes of international importance and their efficient operationalization. Under the terms of the Agreement, a Working Group will be established and serve as a forum for transport policy makers and railway managers to develop a common vision, define joint programmes of action and identify investment requirements and sources. The first meeting of the Working Group will be held in December 2009.
What explains the renewed interest in developing railways currently being witnessed around the world?
Countries worldwide are now realizing that rising demand for transport services can no longer be met with new roads. The recent fluctuations in the price of oil, growing concern over energy-dependency and the sobering realization of the environmental impact of the transport industry are pushing policy-makers to strike a better balance between modes and promote more environmentally-friendly and sustainable transport solutions.
What are the challenges ahead for the Trans-Asian Railway network?
The region has large urban populations, numerous people in the hinterland areas, and a vibrant industrial base. It also has 12 of the world's 30 landlocked countries. Each of these has specific transport needs which must be addressed simultaneously and in a coordinated manner to ensure that development is sustainable and inclusive. The Agreement also identifies stations of international importance that will have similar functions to ports away from coastal areas. These so-called 'dry ports' will act as consolidation/distribution centres creating new economies of scale and increasing the attractiveness of rail transport, while also improving transport linkages to inland areas and landlocked countries. They will also spread the benefits of globalization and create employment opportunities for local populations.
Finally, striking a balance between needs and projects will always be a challenge, especially when budgetary resources are limited. Through the Agreement, ESCAP will strive to keep the current investment momentum over the long-term and find additional resources, in particular by collaborating closely with international financial institutions such as the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and Islamic Development Bank. These international financial institutions have already indicated that special technical assistance funds over and above national allocations have been established to facilitate the implementation of projects of regional importance.
Back to top