Research

Railways

  • Many schemes for railway lines in Afghanistan have been conceived and proposed. It is unlikely that most of them could be constructed. Many, even if constructible, may not be financially viable. Their construction would create a drain on the Afghan national economy as the economic development generated would not be sufficient to cover the cost to the debt necessary to build, operate and maintain the lines. 

  • A few railway lines are feasible along the northern border. These lines extend from Kunduz in the east to the Iranian border between Herat and Khaf and are extensions of other regional rail networks.

  • For any and all lines built or proposed, the most pressing rail need for Afghanistan’s development of resource corridors is the commercialization of any railway and the provision of terminals and other facilities for local distribution of wagonloads to industries and for transshipment between roads and rail.

  • Another pressing need is for the development of rail expertise and a regulatory authority that can oversee safety and interoperability and ensure access to infrastructure.

  • A review of the proposal for the copper mines at Aynak strongly suggests that constructing a new major railway is not necessary for the operation of the mine. Copper products could be moved by road transport.

  • Analysis of the proposals for the iron ore mines and possible metallurgical works near Hajigak shows that the maximum projected output of the mines would exceed the current capacity of connecting Iranian or Pakistani networks without a major upgrading. Exploiting the mines and any steelworks at the scales described for full production requires the eventual construction of an entirely new medium-to-heavy duty railway through Afghanistan plus substantial upgrading of existing lines or, more likely, a new rail line to ports in Iran or Pakistan. Consideration of this railway must await geo-political developments.

  • It is possible that not all of Hajigak’s output would need to move across a single route. It is more likely that it would start low and rise over time. The recently announced phasing of the Hajigak proposal, with initial output for a 1-2 million tpa steel mill, would likely require only a rail link to coking coal fields at Dar-i-Suf and then the mill, whose most likely markets would be the Central Asian economies to the north.

  • Because no subsidy mechanism has been identified to fund the inevitable major losses that light-density passenger services create, no investment or provision for this service should be contemplated at this time.

  • Instead investments in basic highways and roads appear to make more sense for local and regional corridor development. Indeed, transport investment should focus first on all-weather, high axle-load highways instead.

Updated September 6, 2013