What is the Status of the Trans-Asian Railway Network?
To date the Trans-Asian Railway is a network of 114,200 kilometers of railway line selected by 28 countries as vital arteries for the development of their international trade. They provide intra-regional connectivity as well as linkages to Europe via the Russian Federation and Turkey, and the Middle-East via the Islamic Republic of Iran. Out of these 114,200 km, 106,000 km are already in place and another 8,200 km still need to be constructed. They constitute the so-called missing links.
When is it expected to be completed and become operational?
The Trans-Asian Railway network was identified through a series of corridor studies and, in its present configuration, offers a contrasting picture. In the Northern Corridor, with the exception of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, there is a high level of operational readiness. In the Southern Corridor, a number of missing links hamper the development of international traffic and the priorities given to their developments vary between countries. An outstanding issue remains the missing link between Myanmar and its northern neighbours, i.e. China and India. However, progress was achieved in 2009 when the Iranian railways completed the track between Kerman and Zahedan, thereby offering through rail connections with Pakistan and beyond. In the Indochina and ASEAN subregion, the need to develop subregional rail linkages is now receiving full acceptance, even though progress still is relatively slow due to different priorities and funding capabilities of countries. However, a political consensus is there to give higher priority to rail infrastructure and a number of feasibility studies have been completed for links between Cambodia and Viet Nam, Myanmar and Thailand, Viet Nam and Lao PDR. As mentioned above, continuous rail infrastructure may exist within five years between Europe and India.
What kind of Trains will run on TAR Network? Does it mean that Indian Rail will go to China and other Asian Countries via this Network and similarly Trains from other Countries will come to India?
The Trans-Asian Railway project got renewed interest in the early 1990s in view of the considerable growth in trade that the region started to experience. In this respect, the network was originally conceived with a greater emphasis on the movement of cargo, especially containerized cargo. Given the ever-increasing container throughout experienced by ports of the region, the “freight mission” of the Trans-Asian Railway network remains intact and freight trains, in particular container block-trains, are being operated in increasing numbers. As regards passenger movement, there is currently fairly limited cross-border traffic of passengers along the routes of the Trans-Asian Railway network. However, a great number of historical sites are located along the routes of the Trans-Asian Railway and tourism by rail offers promising business opportunities that may in future be reflected in an increase in international passenger trains along the Trans-Asian Railway.
To quote a few examples, container block-trains already routinely travel from China to the Russian Federation via Mongolia, from China to Uzbekistan via Kazakhstan and from Malaysia to Thailand. In August 2009, the railways of Pakistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran and Turkey organized the trial run of a container block-train from Islamabad to Istanbul raising hope for future regular services. People can also already travel by train from Beijing to Moscow via Ulaanbaatar or from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur.
Twelve of the world’s 30 landlocked countries are in Asia, and ten of them are members of the Trans-Asian Railway Network. Do you expect that other Asian Countries will also become members of this TAR Network?
Most Asian countries operating a rail system are part of the Trans-Asian Railway Network. The notable exceptions are Afghanistan, Bhutan, Japan and the Philippines. In the case of the latter two countries the reason may be found in their island-country specificity. In addition, in the case of the Philippines, the absence of an extensive rail network played a role although projects are under progress to revitalize the rail system. Past political tensions in Afghanistan were the reasons behind the country’s lack of involvement in the stages when the routes of Trans-Asian Railway Network were being identified. However, with new lines being constructed across the border from the Islamic Republic of Iran in the west and Uzbekistan in the north, the Government of Afghanistan may decide to join the Trans-Asian Railway project in future. Finally, as regards Bhutan, the country has never so far given consideration to the development of a rail system. However, this could change in future as, in collaboration with Indian Railways, feasibility studies have been completed with respect to a line from Pathshala (State of Assam) to Nanglam, Kokrajhar (State of Assam) to Gelephu, and Hasimara (West Bengal) to Phuentsholing.
How the TAR network will benefit India and other Asian nations?
The contribution of Asian countries to international trade exchanges is booming and in recent years the share of intra-Asian trade has gained ever-increasing importance. Yet, the region’s transport infrastructure is mostly designed to trade with partners in Europe and North-America. Given the vast distances across the width and breadth of Asia, the Trans-Asian Railway Network will be a conduit to facilitate intra-regional trade and the main routes in the network will form the backbone for inter modal corridors.
A number of socio-economic considerations give added urgency for the emergence of such corridors. The growth of world populations and their increasing affluence will continue to amplify global demand for traded products. At the same time, existing modes which are mostly being used independently are being stretched to capacity and policy makers realize that the building of new infrastructure will not be able to keep pace with this increase in demand.