Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey launched a key component of China’s One Belt One Road initiative by establishing a freight and passenger railway link between central Asia and Europe.
The first train on the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railway, which ultimately aims to link London to Beijing, departed from Baku following an inauguration attended by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev and Georgian prime minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili earlier this week.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, Kvirikashvili said the new railway would facilitate the access of central Asian countries—Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, as well as Afghanistan, to European and world markets.
“Our countries’ geopolitical location give us a unique opportunity to bridge Europe and Asia and I’m sure the railway will create totally new economic opportunities and new conditions for development for the region and beyond,” he said.
The prime minister added that the new railway would strengthen the region’s trade and transport status.
The railway is part of China’s ambitious OBOR initiative to establish massive land and sea transport links between Asia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
The railway will have the capacity to annually transport 6.5m tonnes of freight at the initial stage, growing to 17m tonnes annually by 2034, according to Chinese authorities.
The first official run of the 825km line was meant to take place in 2010 but it was delayed several times, mainly for financial reasons.
Its total cost surpassed $1bn, with the bulk of the financing coming from Azerbaijan’s state oil fund, according to the Azerbaijani government.
Altay Atli, researcher at Istanbul-based Sabanci University policy centre, said the BTK railway would halve the transport time of goods between China and Europe from 25-30 days to 15 days.
“The BTK is very appropriate logic of the Belt and Road Initiative and has a global importance in regards to the interconnectivity between the European and Asian continents,” he said.
Ahmet Arslan, Turkish transport, maritime affairs and communications minister, said: “Transportation of goods manufactured and produced in China as well as raw materials will be facilitated via an uninterrupted line of railways,” he said.
The European Union called the opening of the rail link “a major step in transport interconnections linking the EU, Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Central Asia”.
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