After a trial 75-kilometer journey, a train running from Hairatan at the border of Uzbekistan arrived at Afghanistan’s newly built Naibabad Station in the city of Mazar-e-Sharif on 21 December 2011. Although the seven-carriage train carried no cargo, it brought great opportunity for increased trade and cooperation between Afghanistan and its neighbors in Central Asia.
Deputy Public Works Minister Noor Gul Mangal was present to witness the train’s arrival. “This is a matter of pride for us and a very important issue for Afghanistan,” he said. The first journey was intended to test the railway’s tracks and signals.
Funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) at $165 million, with a government share of $5 million, the railway highlights the cooperation between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, both member countries of the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) Program. The latter’s national rail company, Uzbekistan Temir Yullari (UTY), constructed the railway, including three station buildings, two buildings for passing loops, automatic signalling, and gated automatic-level crossing. Operation and maintenance has been contracted to Uzbekistan’s Sogdiana Trans for the next 3 years.
Afghanistan’s first train route is considered a milestone as it connects the country to its neighbors in Central Asia and opens up new trade routes for goods traveling between Europe and Asia. Trains coming in will help Hairatan handle up to 10 times as much cargo, from 4,000 tons per month to 25,000–40,000 tons per month once the service becomes fully operational. Once in Mazar-e-Sharif, the goods can be transferred to most of the rest of Afghanistan by road.
The Associated Press quoted Director Juan Miranda of ADB’s Central and West Asia Department saying, “This port of Hairatan is where the bulk of commercial cargo is coming from into the country, so it [the rail project] is very important.”
The Hairatan–Mazar-e-Sharif railway is part of a larger rail network planned across the north and other parts of the country, including links to Herat (western Afghanistan), Tajikistan, and Pakistan. The project also adds capacity to two CAREC transport corridors—Corridor 3 and Corridor 6.