Restoring the South Caucasus railways

International Alert has published the second volume of its research, Rehabilitation of the railways in the South Caucasus, which assesses the potential economic benefits of re-opening the Kars–Gyumri–Nakhichevan–Meghri–Baku (KGNMB) railway.

The study was carried out in partnership with a regional South Caucasus team of researchers between December 2012 and October 2013, and looks at whether it would be beneficial to include the rehabilitation of the railway in the wider peacebuilding process.

Transport links in the South Caucasus were physically and politically damaged as a result of the protracted conflicts that broke out in the region in the early 1990s, and continue to remain a source of instability and an obstacle to socio-economic development of the region as a whole and its individual territories.

An analysis of economic projects that span the region or its sub-regions, and that involve the conflicting parties, could help to widen the field of discussion within the peace process. In particular, factoring regional economic cooperation into the negotiations could open up new opportunities for parties to interact and build trust through mutual interest.

This study considers the theoretical potential of the KGNMB route as a rail transit link between Kars (Turkey) and Baku (Azerbaijan) through Armenia. The route includes operational and non-operational sections of railway, and runs through Turkey from Kars to Dogukapı, on through Armenia from Akhuryan to Gyumri and Yeraskh, and continues through the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic (Azerbaijan) on the Sadarak–Nakhchivan–Julfa–Ordubad route, crossing Armenia through Meghri, and continuing to Baku through Horadiz and Alyat (Azerbaijan).

The principal objective of modelling the economic benefit of restoring the KGNMB railway was to assess the profitability of investing in the restoration of freight traffic on this route, and to evaluate the other economic and socio-economic effects of opening the railway.

The findings of the study suggest the following:

  • The KGNMB project is clearly more economical than, and could in the future prove to be an affordable alternative or addition to, the existing transport routes of the South Caucasus.
  • Armenia would gain substantial advantages from the opening of the KGNMB railway, by establishing a connection with Turkey and thus access to the Black Sea and Mediterranean, and by opening a line from Julfa to Iran. After all, in addition to freight being sent from Iran to Armenia, there would be transit traffic from Iran passing through Armenia to the Black Sea ports, which means that Armenia would begin to play a role as a transit country.
  • With the opening of the KGNMB route, Azerbaijan would gain a rail link with the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, which would be important socially, but would also mean savings for the national budget, from which resources are currently allocated to subsidise passenger and freight traffic between Nakhchivan and the rest of Azerbaijan by road and air.

The findings are available in full in English here and Russian here. The first volume of the research, which focuses on the Sochi–Sukhum/i–Tbilisi–Yerevan railway, was published in October 2013. It is available in English here and Russian here.