Marmaray Tunnel looks forward to BTK Railway
07 November, 2013
Marmaray Tunnel looks forward to BTK Railway
The Marmaray Rail Tunnel connecting Asian and European parts of Turkey was opened on 29 October. In the future it will enable the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway to link the east with the west on land through the so-called “Iron Silk Road.”
In Turkey, Giorgi Kvirikashvili, Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia, participated in the official opening ceremony for the tunnel, along with representatives from Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Moldova, Spain, Romania and Kazakhstan. The 13.6 km Tunnel is intended to accommodate
1.5 million passengers per day, and is projected to be part of the BTK Railway running from Azerbaijan to Marmaray in Turkey, while crossing Georgia in the southeast.
At the presentation event of Marmaray Tunnel, Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan, proposed a Tokyo–Istanbul express railway, while Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested that it can even be stretched from his country all the way to London. When the BTK “Iron Silk Road” launched in November 2007 Abdulah Giulah, Turkish President, also stated: “This is a great project connecting China to London, with locomotives leaving China and going to Istanbul [through the Caspian region, through Baku, and through Tbilisi], from where from they will be bound for Europe.”
“This is a great project connecting China to London, with locomotives leaving China and going to Istanbul [through the Caspian region, through Baku, and through Tbilisi], from where from they will be bound for Europe,” Abdulah Giulah, Turkish President, also stated then.
BTK was scheduled to start operation by 2010; however, that has been delayed several times. Now construction is expected to be completed by 2014, with operation to begin early in 2015.
The geopolitical value of the Iron Silk Road is obvious; over 10-15 million tons of Asian and European-bound cargo will be carried on this route. It will rival Siberian railway that carries cargos from Asia to Europe via Russia. And it will provide another means of transporting cargo and passengers to and from Iran.
But Georgia’s new authority questioned its economic value to the country last fall. Sector pundits fear that on the difficult Georgian-Turkish highland passage weather is inclement in winter, and the geological structure is not fit for bearing heavy railway containers. Carriers say they will think twice before sending shipments on this route.
Even worse, the already active trunk railway of Georgia, connecting the Caspian Sea with the Black Sea and Georgian ports, may lose cargo after BTK becomes operational, since it will provide a direct rail connection from the Caspian Sea to Europe through the railway tunnel under the Bosporus Strait. This will affect cargo turnover at Georgian ports, too. But others believe that more routes bring more profit to any country, and BTK will ultimately result in additional profit for Georgia, since its existing railway cannot handle all the cargo that might potentially come from Middle Asia and China. Those for and against BTK both agree, however, that it is of greater strategic importance to Azerbaijan and Turkey, historical allies who will finally have a direct rail connection linking them, and which will allow them to bypass their mutual political opponent, Armenia. Still, Georgia has clarified its position that BTK is certainly of strategic importance to it, and should be completed fast, though analysts still recommend that Georgia should make certain that the economic benefits to it are clearly specified.
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