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Baku-Tbilisi-Kars Railway’s Expansion Nears Completion to Boost Middle Corridor Capacity

By Nargiz Mammadli March 5, 2024

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The railroad, vital for the swift transport of goods from China and Central Asian nations to Europe, is undergoing extensive repairs and expansion, with 95% of the work already completed on a challenging 183 km stretch through Georgia's varied landscape / Azerbaijan Railways

The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railway, a key artery in the Middle Corridor linking Asia and Europe, is on the brink of a major upgrade to enhance its cargo capacity.

The railroad, vital for the swift transport of goods from China and Central Asian nations to Europe, is undergoing extensive repairs and expansion, with 95% of the work already completed on a challenging 183 km stretch through Georgia's varied landscape.

The modernization, which has been in progress since 2023, aims to make the BTK route more competitive and capable of handling the growing demand for cargo transportation.

A recent review on March 2nd by the heads of the Azerbaijani, Georgian, and Turkish railway authorities underscored the commitment to finishing the project on time. Rovshan Rustamov, Chairman of Azerbaijan Railways (ADY), highlighted the completion of critical tasks in the Marabda-Kartsakhi section, known for its tough terrain. The focus has been on strengthening the infrastructure, boosting transportation capacity, and ensuring safety.

"Our goal is to ramp up the cargo volume via the BTK to 5 million tons annually, making it a prime choice within the Middle Corridor. The growing need to ship goods between Central Asia, Asia, and the West is our reality, and we're ready to meet this challenge with a modernized BTK railway," Rustamov stated, according to Azerbaijan Railway’s statement.

The BTK project is divided into five parts, three of which have been fully completed and officially documented by the Georgian Government. These segments include the Marabda-Tetriskaro railway line and the Tetriskaro-Tsalka line, among others, encompassing railway stations, passenger platforms, and various infrastructure enhancements.

Also, part of the upgrade is the Akhalkalaki complex, which incorporates an array of infrastructure improvements and the use of modern European technology and equipment. The soon-to-be-announced completion of the three-story Akhalkalaki station building, equipped with advanced systems for passenger convenience, marks the full realization of the project for BTK’s expansion.

Despite challenges such as the mountainous Georgian terrain and severe winter weather, the project has pressed on without delay. The railway's importance is magnified during the autumn-winter season when it often remains the sole link to central areas due to road closures.

With all hands-on deck to wrap up the remaining work by April, plans are underway for a joint venture between Azerbaijan and Georgia.

"After the completion of the project works, a joint venture will be established between Azerbaijan and Georgia, which will focus on the efficient management of operations on the BTK route and the attraction of new cargo. Work in this direction has already started and the establishment of the joint venture will be implemented in the coming months," ADY Chairman Rovshan Rustamov said.

This initiative aligns with the strategic vision of Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev, whose policies have significantly enhanced the BTK railway's role in the global transportation network, fostering increased demand for cargo transit from East to West and vice versa.

The 826 kilometer-long BTK line links Azerbaijan’s railway network to the railroad grid of Türkiye and enables an easier and faster rail connection between China, Central Asia, and Europe. Starting in Baku, trains on BTK rails cut through Georgia’s capital Tbilisi towards the final destination of Kars in northeast Türkiye. A 504-kilometer portion of BTK passes through Azerbaijan, while Georgia and Türkiye are home to 263-kilometer and 79-kilometer sections of the railroad, respectively.

The BTK railroad cuts the overland journey between China and Europe to 15 days instead of 25-45, making it twice as fast as sea transport and less than half the price of air travel.

In its full swing, annual cargo deliveries on the line will reportedly reach 17 million tons. In October 2022, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev said the transportation capacity of BTK will be increased to 5 million tons of cargo per year and Baku has already developed investment programs.

Meanwhile, Baku-Tbilisi-Kars also forms part of a 5,000-kilometer-long Middle Corridor stretching from the northwestern Edirne province of Türkiye to the Katonkaragay district on the eastern edge of Kazakhstan.