Beijing reportedly shelves construction of China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway

Beijing reportedly shelves construction of China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway
This drafted route from planning conducted in 2015 (route since adjusted) shows roughly how a China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway could link to other rail lines to offer passage to the Middle East. / China Daily
By bne IntelIiNews September 28, 2023

Beijing has reportedly postponed indefinitely the construction of the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan (CKU) railway line.

The decision, reported by Silk Road Briefing on September 28, will come as a heavy blow to proponents of the CKU, a concept that officials first advanced more than 25 years ago.

Construction was scheduled to start this autumn, according to officials in Kyrgyzstan, as reported by local media and this publication earlier this week.

China’s decision not to move forward with the CKU railway amounts to positive news for Kazakhstan, as the route was supposed to offer an alternative passage for Chinese goods delivery to Russia, depriving Astana of customs clearance fees, Gennady Bessonov, secretary general of the International Coordinating Council for Trans-Eurasian Transport, was quoted as saying by Silk Road Briefing.

“The project is ready, but Beijing, Bishkek and Tashkent have not yet been able to agree on money, or rather on the proportions of its financing. This may drag on for a long time. Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have no money to finance the project,” he was cited as explaining.

Original assessments deemed the railway would cost around $2bn to $3bn, but this sum is estimated to have at least doubled by now.

Bessonov added: “While China could build everything itself, the railway is not a current priority. It is not intended for deliveries to Europe, as they already have trains travelling along the Trans-Siberian Railway and the Dostyk (Kazakhstan)-Orenburg-Brest route, with the volume of about 600 thousand TEU [equivalent of a 20-foot container] per year. Now there is a lot of discussion of transport projects in all Central Asian republics, everyone wants to become a freight hub, but everything is based on money.”

Building the railway would be a tough challenge, given the great number of tunnels that would have to be cut through mountainous Kyrgyzstan. However, officials have said that they are keen on delivering the infrastructure as it would cut the route from China to Europe and the Middle East by 900 kilometres (559 miles).

After long deliberations, project officials chose a northern direction for the CKU from the Chinese city of Kashgar, the terminus of the railway in southern Xinjiang. The railway would go through the border town of Torugart, then through the Arpa Valley (Fergana Range), Makmal and Jalal-Abad in Kyrgyzstan to Uzbekistan. The planned length of the Kyrgyz section is 268.4 kilometres, while the Chinese section would run to 165 kilometres.