Silk road: past Moscow to London

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"Шелковый путь": мимо Москвы в Лондон

Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey officially opened the railway traffic on the route Baku-Tbilisi-Kars. In the future this branch will become part of the “New silk road”, connecting China with Europe all the way to London. Through the Turkish tunnel under the Bosporus and bypass Russia.

On Monday Baku hosted a grandiose launching ceremony of a new railway. Its route — from Baku (Alyat port) via Tbilisi to the Turkish town of Kars (BTK).

The ceremony was attended by President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, first lady Mehriban Aliyeva and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his wife Emine Erdogan, Prime Minister of Georgia Giorgi Kvirikashvili, as well as delegations of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

Got the crutches and went

President Aliyev, addressing the meeting, said that the railway Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway is “the shortest and most reliable route, connecting Europe with Asia”.

At the opening of the route waiting for the arrival of the President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev, but instead was visited by Prime Minister Bakytzhan Sagintayev.

“This project will expand logistics capabilities in the Caspian sea, will create favorable conditions for cargo transportation from China to Europe, the rate of freight will be doubled,” — said Kazakhstan Prime Minister. But does not confirm his calculations.

Convincing of all was Erdogan. He made a statement that should be heard in Beijing and in London. “Today goes the first part on the railway line Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, which is of strategic importance for the entire region, particularly for Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey. Thus, we announce the establishment of a direct rail link from London to China,” — said the President of Turkey.

According to him, currently, freight from China to UK, France, Germany and other European countries on the southern and Northern corridor, including the sea route, take 45-62 days.

After the commissioning of the BTK this period will be reduced to 12-15 days.

The Turkish leader also added that the volume of cargo from China to Europe is more than 240 million tons.

In turn, the Prime Minister of Georgia Giorgi Kvirikashvili said that it formed “the basis of the new Eurasian bridge will be developed new markets.”

The Georgian side said the Prime Minister also wants to contribute to the implementation of the initiative “One belt and one road” and the high guests were invited to Tbilisi to take part in the international forum on the project “silk road”.

Then the heads of state and government hammered the last spikes into the railroad, introduced some points were photographed, and then boarded the train and departed from the port of Baku Alyat, where a ceremony was held at the railway station Alat.

Capsule laid Saakashvili

The length of highways is about 850 km, and 504 km of which pass through Azerbaijan. To Baku the first train, which will travel on the new highway, loaded with wheat, were taken by ferry across the Caspian sea from the Kazakh port of Kuryk.

The end point of the movement of the first train on BTK will be the port of Mersin in Turkey.

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The idea of the construction of the railway Baku – Tbilisi – Kars railway was discussed in the 90-ies of the last century, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Implementation began in November 2007 from the territory of Georgia.

The project was launched by the solemn ceremony with participation of the heads of the three participating countries. The then President of Georgia Mikhail Saakashvili once described the project of “great geopolitical revolution” and linked it with China.

Saakashvili said that “all the Chinese goods that do today to Europe through the territory of Russia, will go on this way.” At the initial stage on this road was supposed to carry no more than 4-5 million tons. It questioned the profitability of the project. But Saakashvili has assured partners that will help Kazakhstan. Supposedly Astana decided to redirect to this site of 10 million tons of cargoes coming into Europe via Russia and Belarus.

Apparently, Kazakhstan on their promises almost a decade ago is ready to perform. Earlier, the Minister of transport, shipping and communications of Turkey, Ahmet Arslan stated that BTK has the potential to carry up to 35 million tons of cargo per year.

The tariffs agreed under the Chinese

On the eve of the launch of branches in operation in Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey agreed tariff policy. The cost of delivery $37,9 per ton, $2279 per car, $529 for one 40-foot container.

In the first year it is planned to carry up to 5 million tons of cargo and 1 million passengers. Passenger transportation is expected to start in 2018. Azerbaijan bought 30 sleeping cars from the Swiss manufacturer Stadler and 10 locomotives from the French Alstom.

BTK is also designed for the supply in Turkey liquefied natural gas from the Caspian countries, oil from Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan. But the main goal, of course, container shipping from China.

However, this still needs to complete several infrastructure facilities: logistics center in Kars, point of replacement wheelsets with the 1520 on a gauge of 1435 in Akhalkalaki, a depot, a warehouse for storing coal, a terminal for transshipment of oil, oil products and liquefied gas, and then you can talk about increasing the volume of freight traffic up to 15 million tons per year.

BTK aspires to become a connecting link between Europe and Asia via the railway tunnel “Marmara” under the Bosporus.

To earn on transit of goods from China to Europe dreams of almost every country whose geographical position allows it. To win over the “silk road” would not only Azerbaijan or Turkey, not just Russia or Kazakhstan, but also Mongolia, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine. Last year, Ukrainian Railways, announced the launch of trains in China to bypass Russia.

The cargo to the border with the EU, Ukrainian railwaymen promised to deliver in 11 days. But in the end the delivery took 15 and a half days.

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The building of BTK have caused outrage in neighboring Armenia, which the highway bypasses.

“Azerbaijan is trying to give mangy cat for “economic tiger” is the most mild commentary on today’s news in Armenian media.

The completion of the line to Turkish Kars means that now the way from China to Europe will indeed become easier, because there is no need to transship goods via the Black sea. From Kars to the border with Europe (through Greece and Bulgaria) has established rail links. But from China to Baku, the goods to be transported through the Caspian sea by ferry.

China will try to be friends with all countries, which geographically may be relevant to the project “New silk way”, promising the content of the routes, goods, General Director of InfraNews Alexei Bezborodov.

Not the fact, however, that the Chinese comrades are interested in the possibilities of the new highway. Especially in its current form – without full logistics of filling.

“The road was built 10 years. At each stage, stakeholders in Georgia and Azerbaijan, came up with new and new marketing study, allegedly proving the involvement of this pathway in the transnational movement. Luckily the initiators, the leaders of China invented the “New silk road”. And zakavkazskie colleagues immediately intensified,” — says Bezborodov.

Russia is an attractive low cost

But the owners of the highway will inevitably face several challenges. Lack of trained manpower, shortage of containers and supports their technology. According to Bezborodov, the Caspian sea has not appeared the container ships and ferries more than a couple of dozen containers do not move. It’s not the scale that China needs.

But the main obstacle is still the cost of future transportation. While Russia have won the same Azerbaijan and Turkey due to the relative cheapness of transport. “Today bring in one container by sea only, on the same period — through the Caspian sea — is worth $1200. For the money it is possible to transport a container from Vladivostok to Moscow.

“Trial calculation of cost of transportation of containers to bypass Russia, that is, from the Chinese border through Turkey to the EU, gave the fork from $8 to $12 thousand This theoretical calculations, to check them is not yet possible,” — said the expert.

In his opinion, established by Russia and Kazakhstan through its territory to transport Chinese goods to Europe, at least until recently, was considered more profitable. And all the infrastructure along the route through the Russian station of Zabaikalsk, Naushki or Eastern port of Vladivostok and Kazakhstan via the Dostyk and Altynkol – better suited for transit.

Transit traffic through Kazakhstan and Russia from China this year will be about 340 thousand TEU ( unit of measure of goods equal to the volume of one 20-foot container). Transportation cost per container — $3,5-4,5 thousand with regard to “sponsorship” of Chinese provinces.

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