Transasia_trade_routes_1stC_CE_gr2Published: Geography and Natural Resources. 2012. Vol. 33. № 3. P. 258–261. This work was done with financial support of the Russian Humanitarian Foundation (10–03–00855a/G) and the Russian Foundation for Basic Research (11- 05–92004-NNS_a).

Golubchikov Yu.N., K.K. Rakhimov K.K., Sobyanin A.D., Tikunov V.S.

The interests of Russia, as a Eurasian state, must be geared not only toward the West, East and North but also toward the South. The transport capabilities of Trans-Sib (Trans-Siberian Railway) will be enhanced dramatically once it is connected with the Indian Ocean via a network of meridional railways. In particular, this would provide an entry for grain exports into countries of Central and South Asia. Some elements of the Indo- Siberian arterial railway are traceable even in the existing network of the former Soviet railways in Central Asia. It is suggested that the project be started from the Chui-Fergana Trans-Kyrgyz Railway.

The international division of labor leads to a rapid growth of goods exchange between Europe and Asia. It accounts for half of cargo transportation on the world. However, because of the expensiveness of railway transportation, the main planetary cargo flow is transported through the Indian Ocean to date. Transportation by sea is by a factor of 4–5 cheaper than by Trans-Sib. Even Russia receives 90% of the imported flow from China not by Trans-Sib, as might be expected. Cargoes are delivered from Shanghai and the other ports of China to deep-water ports of Europe — container hubs of Hamburg, Rotterdam, Antwerp, Kiel, Felixstowe, and Bremerhafen. From there they arrive at the container terminals in the Baltic Region. And after that, cargoes are transported to Russia by the Pskov-Riga and Oktyabrskaya Railways.

However, the transit capabilities of the Indian Ocean are not boundless. The voyage duration from Japan to Europe with the passage through the Suez Canal is as long as 35 days. Reliability and promptitude of cargo delivery depends on the traffic capacity of the Strait of Malacca and the Suez Canal, on storms and hurricanes, pirate assaults in the Gulf of Aden, and on stability in the Persian Gulf.

The increase in size of long-distance container ships has also reached its limits. Larger ships require a substantial increase in fuel consumption and deep- water marine terminals. The Vice-President of the Eurasian Transport Union Yu. Shcherbanin [1] pointed out that an increase in velocity of a contemporary container ship from 24 to 26.5 knots will also involve an increase in fuel consumption by 30%. Consumption of expensive fuels, however, makes super-large ships unprofitable and uncompetitive.

All this leads to a revival of the idea about the overland multimodal (rail-automobile) «Europe- South Asia» transport corridor. Early or late, a «New Rotterdam» will have to be created on the Indian Ocean coast. The route from it to Europe through the countries of Central Asia will be shorter by a factor of three than transportation by vessels passing through the Suez Canal. Furthermore, all attractive routes for cargo owners will pass through Russia thereby, of course, intensifying the operation of Trans-Sib.

Since the issues relating to the road to the Indian Ocean are primarily in the interests of Russia, in the event of a unified network with the track gauge of 1520 mm Russia will obtain a transport artery with appreciable gains in delivery speed and with no problems in case of relocation from the broad- to the narrow-gauge track. The railways with a broad-gauge track exist, in addition to CIV countries, in the Baltic Region, Georgia, Bulgaria, Finland, Mongolia and Slovakia, and on some port territories in East Germany (formerly Mukran, currently Sassnitz) to a number of border transshipment stations in China. According to the standards adopted in the post-Soviet space, Uzbekistan constructed the railway in Afghanistan from Termez to Mazari Sharif.

Investors of China insist on constructing narrow gauge railways (with the track gauge of 1435 mm). In 2010, China announced the project envisaging the extension of its railways from the China-Kazakhstan border crossings to Heart (Afghanistan) and the Persian Gulf (Bandar Abbas Port). In 2011, China started the construction of the railway and a parallel motor road from Kashgar to Badakhshan in Tajikistan and further out along the Karakorum highway to Gwadar port in Pakistan that was constructed and infrastructured by the Chinese. With the implementation of the project, Tajikistan will leave the bottle-neck zone to become a transit region, with the exit to the ports of the Indian Ocean.

One further narrow-gauge possibility of reaching Uzbekistan from China through Kyrgyzstan has been discussed since the mid-1990s. The project received the name the Chinese-Kyrgyz-Uzbek Railway (CKURW), Its route from Kashgar through Osh to Tashkent accurately patterns after the section of the Great Trans- Asian Railway as described by Jules Verne in his novel «Clodius Bombarnac».

The challenges of China must stir up the aspirations of Russia to join the infrastructure projects of Central Asia. China focuses on the construction of latitudinal railways adhering to the archetypes of the «Great Silk Road». Russia, however, is likely to follow its direct meridional way to enable it to realize «a journey beyond the three seas to India». In this case, the «Chinese» and «Russian» ways are not rivals at all; instead, they are mutually complementary. Their mutually perpendicular network shifts Central Asia to the heart of the world transport space. The region would become the center of transcontinental railways.

The track gauge shall not serve as a stumbling- block. The Russian meridional routes can be with a broad gauge, whereas the Chinese latitudinal routes — with a narrow gauge. This would not cause any serious problems. On Sakhalin the arrow-gauge railway was constructed by the Japanese, and it is still in operation alongside the Russian standard track. A broad-gauge track is in operation in Finland, as in Russia, whereas in Sweden, which is bordered by Finland, the European narrow-gauge track is functioning. However, there are no problems whatsoever between these countries. Trains are rapidly relocated from one platform to the other.

It is of utmost current importance for Russia to adopt the strategy for the construction of meridional railways to the Indian Ocean, perpendicular to the routes as planned by Beijing. The entry via them from Trans-Sib to the rapidly growing market of the countries of the Indian Ocean will diversify Russia’s main railway.

Unlike any other large space, Central and South Asia are experiencing aridization and desertification. Glaciers in the mountains are thawing and retreating. The waters of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya are almost entirely diverted for irrigation purposes. The Aral Sea has dried up. And there is no water to irrigate free lands suitable for agricultural purposes in the former republics of Middle Asia.

For the last 150 years the population of Tajikistan has increased by a factor of 11.5, with a factor of 7 corresponding to Middle Asia as a whole. To date the population of the states in Middle Asia and of Azerbaijan doubles at an escalating rate every 23–25 years and is half of Russia’s population. Should these tendencies continue, however, the population size of the Islamic countries of the former USSR will be twice as large as in Russia by the year 2050. Nowadays, a growth of the Islamic world in the post-Soviet space is being deterred by europeanized thinking that manifested itself in the overcoming of the centuries- old tradition of polygamy. Yet a universal return to this tradition is possible in the near future. And this process is at work already — in Kazakhstan, for example which may well speed up the rate of increase in population of the former Soviet republic in Middle Asia by a factor of two as a minimum.

On the other hand, the huge areas of deserts and high mountains in Middle Asia are nearly or entirely devoid of permanent population, whereas some areas, oases and intermontane valleys are populated extremely densely. In places, the population density exceeds 300 or even 400 persons/km2. Even in the mountains, such a density is not uncommon in some depression, valleys and gorges. If the population density is calculated not for the entire barren area of the deserts and mountains but only for the agricultural area, then in Central Asia it will turn out to be one of the highest in the world.

In Tajikistan, for example, 93% of its area is occupied by the mountains. Since World War II, the sown area per capita has reduced from 0.6 to 0.17 ha, whereas in the USSR it averaged 0.79 ha. Even in Soviet times, the Tajik Republic, with most of its inhabitants employed in agriculture, was unable to meet its own food requirements [2]. To date the food situation has aggravated still further. And all this is going on in parallel with a rapid urbanization of Central Asian countries. Thus, according to estimates as of 2011, the population size of Kabul is 6 mln. against 15 mln. of Afghanistan.

A population increase in Central and South Asia is favorable to the export possibilities of the grain- producing areas of Siberia. Grain production in the regions of the Siberian Federal District (SFD) in 2009 amounted to about 20 mil. t, or substantially higher than the domestic demand — about 12 mln. t, i.e. the export deliveries may well reach 8 mln. t already today [3]. Siberia is faced with outstanding possibilities of returning to the world market of agricultural produce as the leading exporter of foodstuffs. This time not to Europe which was the importer of Siberian grain before the Revolution. With the construction of the railway to the Indian Ocean, Siberia will enter their markets to deliver not only grain but also any perishable agricultural produce (such as meat and milk).

Siberia has almost no rivals on the food market of Asia. A swift economic expansion in China is attended by a steady reduction in arable lands — both absolute and per capita. A shortage of agricultural lands is due primarily to ecological factors. In the years of the Cultural Revolution, millions of hectares of pastures were plowed up in the steppes of North-West China and Inner Mongolia; they are now desertified lands. Deforestation of huge areas caused desiccation of soils. Currently these desertified territories are experiencing water and wind erosion. As a result, the groundwater table is lowering, and the rivers are becoming shallow. At the same time, food importation is escalating at a great pace, while China leads the world in overall harvesting of wheat (twice as large as in the USA), rice. and total production of meat (also twice as large as in the USA).

The pattern of production and consumption in Siberia and South Asia can be mutually complementary. Siberia can offer the southern countries metals, timber, coal, liquefied gas, and products of the engineering industry. The consumption rates of hydrocarbons in the Central Asian region are estimated at double figures and hold promise for rapid recoupment of this railway with a further increase in fuel requirements. Population development necessarily involves an increase in the volumes of construction and demand for building materials, including for rural construction (housing, roads, and industrial agricultural production and agricultural produce processing facilities). For Indian Ocean countries Russia, in turn, will become a good sales market of textiles, furniture, inexpensive Indian automobiles, such as Tata Nano, and household equipment.

From India to Pakistan the railway network of Siberia and Central Asia is partitioned off with massive mountain chains of the Pamir Mountains and the Hindu Kush, and also with the Karakorum to the east. However, the state-of-the-art construction practices that have been successfully tested in the Andes and Tibet will help to cope with these difficulties. It is in the high mountains where it will be possible to build maximally straightened overland rail tracks consisting of modules manufactured under plant conditions and transported to the site by airships, or dirigibles — the most energy efficient transportation mode. The assembly process through the use of dirigibles hovering over the place of installation of a section does not require any preparatory work on the track. Such tracks do not disturb traditional migration routes of animals and natural water courses; nor they need tremendous earth work [4].

The southern section of the «North-South» corridor will consist of the transport networks of India, Pakistan and Iran, and of the access sea routes from Indonesia, and from other states of the Asia-Pacific Region. The Northern section of the corridor corresponds to the network of Russian railways and water routes of the Arctic Ocean, which would involve modernization of the operating national Arctic ports and the construction of new ones.


The Project of the Indo-Siberian Continental

Railway (ISCR) can include several roads from the emerging Eurasian Union to India, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The vectors of the Eurasian railway routes of the 21st century terminate at the following points in three countries: Chabahar Port in Iran (on the border between Iran and Pakistan in the Arabian Sea), and Bandar-Abbas Port (in the Persian Gulf).

For Pakistan the railway vector from the Eurasian Union and China terminates at Gwadar Port (in the Arabian Sea) that is being constructed with the participation of China. For India, the vectors are different: the railway vector from Russia includes the central areas of India, and the capital city of New- Delhi; the sea and multimodal vector includes the ports of Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay), Chennai (formerly known as Madras), Visakhapatnam, and Jawaharlal Nehru Port. These ports are envisioned as the terminals for the International Transcontinental North-South Corridor (North-South ITC) from the Baltic Region to India. It can start directly from Trans­Sib and from its branches toward the north, and from the ports in the White and Barents Seas.

The Indo-Siberian Road is the endeavor of the first decades of the 21st century, but it seems likely that this project must start with one railway and with one concrete motor road. It is the Chui-Fergana road which will connect via a single route the Siberian regions of Russia and Kazakhstan with the Kyrgyz, Tajik and Uzbek railways. The road will connect the Chui and Fergana valleys to become an organic continuation of the railways of Kazakhstan. It will reach the railway network of Uzbekistan thereby ensuring the construction of the Central Asian railway ring. This will contribute to easing the strained transport situation existing between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, because the Fergana Valley can then be accessed by alternative railway. The construction of the Chui-Fergana railway and its further ramification to the major deposits of mineral resources and to large hydroelectric power stations will enhance dramatically their investment attractiveness. Exploitation of mineral resources can then be accessed by Russia and Kazakhstan. The connection of the north and south of Kyrgyzstan will be an important stride forward in strengthening the region’s geopolitical security.

The tentative cost of the railway will vary from 1.5 to 5 billion US dollars, depending on the selected route. The startup project must be initiated by Russia and Kazakhstan, with direct participation of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Only after starting the construction of the meridional road can the question be raised concerning the attraction of major states, such as China, Pakistan and Iran as well as the European Union, Japan and the USA which, within the framework of the International Commission of UN ESCATO, support all such transcontinental transport and infrastructure projects.

When considering the long-range strategy of development of Central Asia, it is necessary already now to proceed from the emergence of the Indo-Siberian continental railway while being aware that this railway will remain on paper only. However, the interests of Russia as the Eurasian power, are geared not only toward the West, East and North but also, of course, toward the South. In this context, the significance of the Central Asian region is enhanced for Russia. In order to attract appreciable investment in this region, it is necessary to have a fundamentally different investment project with a different scope of activity.

The task of constructing the railway from Russia to India was formulated as early as the 1880s. The route was planned through the Fergana Valley, today’s Kyrgyz Osh, and the Pamir mountains which are in Tajikistan and in Afghanistan at present, and through today’s disputable area in Pakistan. «The idea of the great railway route which would connect Europe with India, is as old as the history of railway construction itself in general», remarks the orientalist M.L. Pavlovich [5] and makes a reference to a brochure written by Pereira in 1830, containing the project of construction of the railway to India.

The year 1874 saw the publication of the plan construct the Indo-Volga Railway from Saratov to India. The originator of the project Stepan Baranovskii wrote: «The Indo-Volga Railway will have a tremendous influence upon the whole of Russia, by exalting and ennobling its trade significance. For our trade relations with the East Indies, we have been using the mediation of England and Holland; then, on the contrary, Great Britain and the Netherlands, with their possessions washed by the Indian Ocean, will be trading through the mediation of Russia — using the straightest, nearest. speediest and safest route by railway through Saratov on the Volga and Attoka on the Indus» [6].

The first thing done by the Russian Empire in Middle Asia was to build the railway to the Fergana Valley. The second thing done by Soviet Power thereafter was to complete the Turkestan-Siberian Railway (commonly abbreviated as the Turk-Sib). And these routes were indeed heading for the Indian Ocean. At that period, however, the state border of the USSR running along the Amu Darya actually blocked the transcontinental meridional projects and the ancient trade routes.

To date, because of high speeds and destruction of boundaries, the map of Central Asia has become more compact. Everything on it came closer together. Much nearer is now the Indian Ocean. It became closer to Central Asia than the Baltic Sea, albeit quite the reverse has been true over the last 150 years. The populated part of the Pacific Rim became so close that the countries of East Asia declared themselves as a land bridge between the main economic poles of the planet Earth — EEC (European Economic Community) and APR (Asia- Pacific Region). Siberia must take advantage of its favorable geostrategic location.



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  2. Shustov A.V. There Will Be More Blood in Central Asia Than in Egypt // Postsovet, Blog «Central Asia». [
  3. Korolev S.V. We Will Feed Asia // Chestnoe slovo. 11.2009.
  4. Goncharenko S.S. The Strategy of Russia — 21st Century: Transport, Economy, Integration, Security // Proceedings o f the internftional scientific-practical conference on «Eurasian Space: Priorities of Socioeconomic Development» (12.05.2011, Moscow). : eAoI, 2011. Vol. 1. P. 200–209.
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