China’s railway authority has put forward an ambitious plan to build a Silk Road high-speed railway which would connect northwest China to West Asia via Central Asia.
He Huawu, chief engineer of China Railway Corp, put forward the proposal at a Thursday forum on the One Belt, One Road Initiative hosted by China Civil Engineering Society.
His proposed route would lead from China’s Urumqi and Yining to Almaty in Kazakhstan, followed by Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan, Tashkent and Samarkand in Uzbekistan and Ashgabat in Turkmenistan before finally joining the train network in West Asia through Tehran, Iran.
For years, the 1.52-meter track standard adopted in Central Asia has been a headache for logistics managers because it is not based on the 1.435 meter standard track adopted in China and most other parts of the world. Changing gauges at the border takes days for cargo and significantly cuts railway transport’s competitiveness against shipping by sea.
“The Khorgos station bordering Kazakhstan last year handled less than 17 million metric tons of cargo running at full capacity, but beyond the station, the east-west annual cargo transportation capacity is 100 million tons,” He said.
According to He, container trains and passenger trains could run on the same route. The only difference would be speed. A passenger train could run at 250 to 300 kilometers per hour, while a container train could run at 120 kilometers per hour.
Other experts cautioned that an Asian railway link has been under discussion for a long time and has not materialized mainly because of various geopolitical concerns of the countries alone the route.
China floats high-speed rail line connecting Western China to Iran.