Infrastructure development: Kazakhstan getting ready for increased traffic on Middle Corridor
The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the following sanctions of the Western countries have caused a significant shift on the New Silk Road. For a decade, Russia was a key transit state for most of the container trains running between China and Europe. Now, more and more shippers and freight forwarders are looking towards the Middle Corridor that bypasses the sanctioned country. In this regard, Kazakhstan will be able to attract more freight traffic. This will not be possible without investments in infrastructure.
A few months ago the Middle Corridor, which runs via Central Asia and the Caucasian region, was not popular among the shippers, logistics companies and freight forwarders. Most of them considered it an inconvenient route for moving containers between China and Europe. The Russian military aggression has changed this and the corridor is gaining popularity. Some forwarders prefer to deliver boxes to Europe via Turkey, others do this via Romania (by using the Georgia-Romania ferry link).
Nevertheless, all the container trains on the Middle Corridor cross Kazakhstan, which is currently increasing its position as a transit country. According to the International Association of the Trans-Caspian international transport route, the freight volumes on the corridor will increase sixfold, up to 3.2 million tonnes. Therefore, the Government of Kazakhstan is paying significant attention to the infrastructure projects to make its transport network ready to handle this traffic.
Rail plays a crucial role in the economy of Kazakhstan. 256 million tonnes of freight were transported by trains in 2021. As a result, the country’s government is actively investing in the development of rail infrastructure. For instance, around 2,500 kilometres of new lines were built in the 2010s and around 10,000 kilometres of the existing lines were modernised. In 2021 Kazakhstan Temir Zholy, the national railway undertaking and manager of the railway network, upgraded around 600 kilometres of tracks.
By 2025, Kazakhstan Temir Zholy intends to implement three key infrastructure projects that will eliminate bottlenecks of the country’s railway network. Moreover, these investments will allow the railway undertaking to transport up to 30 million tonnes of transit freight (the estimated figure for the current year is 24.5 million tonnes).
The first project is the construction of the second track and the electrification of the Dostyk-Mojynty section. It will increase the capacity of the line fivefold and the freight trains will be able to run on the route at a speed of 1,500 kilometres per day (instead of 800 kilometres per day today). The second project is the construction of the Darbaza-Maktaaral section that will reduce the transit distance to the countries of Central Asia. And the third rail project is the construction of the bypass railway line at the Almaty station. It will allow unloading by 30 per cent the congested station in the former capital of Kazakhstan and reducing the delivery time of goods to 24 hours.
Turning ports into hubs
Another direction for investing in infrastructure is the development of Kazakhstan’s ports, Aktau and Kuryk. The Port of Aktau, the main harbour of Kazakhstan on the Caspian Sea has already seen an increase in the container traffic two times: it handled slightly more than 1,600 TEU in February 2022 while the figure almost doubled in April up to 3,000 TEU. The port operating company expects that the annual container volumes will be also doubled, up to 50,000 TEU.
To keep pace with the growing traffic, the Port of Aktau is planning to construct a new multifunctional terminal by 2025, which is estimated at around 22.4 million euros. It will have an open storage yard with an area of 80,000 square metres, where 2,500 boxes can be placed as well as a covered warehouse with an area of 2,000 square metres. Finally, the project will result in growing the container traffic up to 100,00 TEU.
The second port of Kazakhstan is Kuryk, the youngest maritime facility in the country. It was put into operation in December 2016. Currently, the port has enough of free capacity: its ferry terminal can handle up to 4.1 million tonnes of rail-based goods while it processed only 564,000 tonnes in 2021). Meanwhile, some developments in the port infrastructure have been scheduled for the current year. It is planned to put into operation 11.6 kilometres of access railway tracks, two new berths and the first stage of the general cargo terminal. The full implementation of the project, which involves the construction of new specialised terminals, will increase the port’s cargo annual turnover to 14 million tonnes and expand the range of transhipped cargo at the expense of general, container and bulk cargo, as well as grain and oil bulk.