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ITE Transport and Logistics

Case study: the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway

The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railway project has been ongoing for some time – almost 25 years in fact. Initially discussed in 1993, and given the green light in 2005, the line finally saw some train action in July 2017.
A ceremonial first train ran on the Turkish section of the BTK line, carrying Turkey’s Minister of Transporter, Maritime & Communication Ahmet Aslan, plus Georgie’s Minister of Economy and CEOs of Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan’s national railways, at this time.

“We hope that this line, together with the Marmaray tunnel in Istanbul, will significantly increase the importance of the railway in this region, between Asia and Europe,” Arslan said. ‘This railway will increase co-operation in this region and expand trade.”

So the BTK railway is finally nearing final completion – but how did it get there? Let’s take a look at the development of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars rail corridor, what it actually entails, and how it could shake up Turkish and Eurasian rail.

What is the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway?

BTK Railway quick facts

Length: 838.6km
Project owner: Turkish State Railways (Kars-Akhalkalaki) and Azerbaijan Railways (Akhalkalaki-Baku)
Cost: TL12.15 billion ($3.4 billion)
Project duration: 2005-present

The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway is a regional rail link that connects Kars in Northeast Turkey to the Georgian capital of Tbilisi and Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital city. Its purpose is to increase the flow of both passenger and freight traffic amongst all three participating nations, plus increase political and societal cooperation between them too.

BTK will be a further rail route between Turkey and the Caspian Sea, on which Baku sits, allowing goods and people to move around Central Asia, the Middle East, and Europe.

Broadly, the route is split into four sections:

• Baku-Azerbaijan/Georgia border – 503km - Broad gauge (1520mm)
• Azerbaijan/Georgia border - Akhalkalaki – 230km – Broad gauge (1520mm)
• Akhalkalaki – Turkey/Georgia Border – 29km – Standard gauge (1435mm)
• Turkey/Georgia border – Kars – 76.6km – Standard gauge (1435mm)

The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway is expected to be commissioned in September 2017, with first passenger trains ready to roll by this date.

Passenger, freight levels to be boosted by BTK

Baku-Tbilisi-Kars has been set some high but impossible performance goals – targets that, if met, will considerably alter the role of rail in trade and passenger movement between the three participating states. This was BTK’s intended purpose after all, but how much of an impact will it have?

Once fully operational, BTK is set to have a passenger capacity of one million passengers a year. For freight, the route is expected to hold a 6.5 million ton freight capacity.

After 20 years, both passenger and cargo loads are anticipated to increase hugely. By 2037, passenger traffic is forecast to top out at 3 million passengers a year. Cargo loads are anticipated to reach 17 million tons a year.
Three sets of passenger trains, run by Azerbaijan Railways, are to run along the BTK route, which will form a leg of the longer Baku-Istanbul route. These are to be supplied by Switzerland’s Stadler Rail.

Turkish State Railways (TCDD) will be running freight services, plus Turkish operators taking advantage of Turkey’s rail liberalisation measures, along the Turkish-Georgian border link. Georgian and Azerbaijani routes will be serviced by their respective national rail companies.

Cargoes are likely to be mostly be oil or petroleum products, as the Caspian Sea is one of the world’s most fertile oil producing regions. Additionally, most of Turkey’s freight traffic to former CIS countries will likely shift to the BTK route initially, suggesting it will become a vital economic lifeline for all countries involved.

Several BTK sectors still need completion

Currently, construction is nearing completion, but it is facing further delays. In July, prior to the initial ceremonial journey on the Tukey-Georgia border line, Turkey suspended construction of its route. The 29km line, linking Turkey with Akhalkalaki in Georgia, has also yet to be completed.

On the cargo side, freight trains are unlikely to start rolling immediately after September’s projected start date. Requisite storage and transhipment infrastructure has yet to be put in place along some routes.

Kars is expected to be BTK’s chief transhipment and freight terminal. TCDD is building 18 logistics sectors under Turkey’s Vision 2023 national development programme, with Kars selected as the site for one of these.

Azerbaijan is also planning to build and operate a 30-hectare logistics centre in the Kars region to supplement freight services in the area.

Despite its ongoing developmental delays, BTK looks on track for its September 2017 commissioning date. It’s a major project – and one that highlights the money Turkey, and Eurasia as a whole, is pouring into railway development.

Capitalise on BTK and Turkish railway development at Eurasia Rail

Turkey is spending $45 billion on its railways until at least 2023. In the greater Eurasia region, over $500 billion of investment is coming to projects like the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway.
Where can you meet the buyers and key decision controlling this spending? Istanbul Rail Tech.

Istanbul Rail Tech is the perfect gateway to the Turkish and Eurasian rail industry – and presents a fantastic opportunity to showcase your products and solutions to active, industry-specific buyers.

The show takes place between 11-12 April 2018 at the Istanbul Congress Centre, bringing together 120 domestic and international exhibitors with over 3,500 visitors.

Contact us now to book your slot or to get more information on Istanbul Rail Tech.


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