New railway links Central Asia to trade routes of Persian Gulf

Route reportedly cost about two billion dollars

AKYAYLA - A 900-kilometre (560 mile) railway through Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Iran was launched Wednesday, in what leaders hailed as a historic event linking Central Asia to the trade routes of the Persian Gulf.The route, whose construction was agreed in 2007 and which reportedly had cost about two billion dollars, permits train service from Kazakhstan's city of Uzen through Turkmenistan to Iran's Gorgan."The route will permit the region's development and prosperity," Turkmenistan's leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov said at the ceremony held at a desert station called Akyayla (White Land) about 580 kilometres (360 miles) west of Ashgabad close to the border with Iran."This event will go down in the history of our countries," he said."This railway is a means to bring together the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Oman, Asian countries, China, Russia, Turkey and Europe," Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said.The link shortens the previous route that ran from Kazakhstan along the Turkmen-Uzbek border and to Iran by 600 kilometres (370 miles), which makes the journey two days shorter, Turkmenistan's railway ministry said.It will handle up to 12 million tonnes of cargo every year, it said.Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev said the road will finally link his country to sea routes, "stimulating trade and economic growth."Gas-rich Turkmenistan hosted the ceremony after transporting the delegations through its vast deserts to the station and treating them to traditional song and dance performances.A source in the Turkmen government said on condition of anonymity that the entire project required investment of about two billion dollars, which included the country's own resources and money from the Islamic Development Bank and the Asian Development Bank.