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China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ gets new rail link

BAKU, Azerbaijan: October 30, 2017. The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railway connecting Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey has opened following the completion of a 109-km. section from Akhalkalaki, Georgia into Turkey.

The 846-km. railway is expected to be a key role in China's 'One Belt, One Road' initiative and provides opportunities to move container cargo from China and other parts of Asia to the Mediterranean region and Europe in 14-18 days.

BTK railway openingThe inauguration at the Port of Baku in Alat, Azerbaijan was attended by Azerbaijan president Ilham Aliyev, president Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Kazakhstan's prime minister Bakytzhan Sagintayev, prime minister of Georgia Giorgi Kvirikashvili and Uzbekistan prime minister Abdulla Aripov.

"The BTK is the shortest and most reliable route connecting Europe with Asia," said Aliyev. "It is planned to carry five million tons of cargo in the first stage and 17 million tons in the next stage," he declared.

President Erdogan added the rail link was of strategic importance for the revival of the New Silk Road and noted that "the key leg of the Middle Corridor has now been completed."

The first train from Baku marked the opening of the rail line after traveling over 2,800 km. from northwest Kazakhstan and crossing the Caspian Sea on a rail ferry. In the next four days it will travel an additional 2,000 km from Baku to the Port of Mersin in Turkey.

The BTK project is part of strategy to diversify Azerbaijan's petrochemical economy by becoming a Eurasia trade and logistics hub. This includes the completion of the first phase of the new Port of Baku and the launch of the Alat Free Trade Zone in 2018.

According to Georgian Rail the project effectively opens a new rail-only corridor from the Caspian Sea to Europe via Turkey, excluding the need for sea transportation with the opening of the Marmaray rail tunnel under the Bosporus.

In addition, the BTK line provides an opportunity for a North-South rail corridor linking Russia as an alternative to a rail route via Iran. Based on current cargo flows the company said it expects to re-route at least two million tonnes of existing cargo flows (principally dry cargo currently transported by truck) between Turkey, the Caucasus, Russia and Central Asia.

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