The little city of Akhalkalaki of Georgia will play a critical role on the success of Baku Tbilisi Kars railway project which Turkey and Azerbaijan give such a big importance. But is this city the right choice?
The Baku Tbilisi Kars railway project is now under construction and expected to be commissioned by next year. The Kars-Akhalkalaki section of the project is funded by Turkey and is constructed according to standard rail gauge as in Turkey. The rest, from Akhalkalaki to Baku, the line is broad gauge.
Thus, all trains coming from Azerbaijan will either be transshipped to TCDD wagons or their bogies have to be changed. There’s no freight wagon with “changeable bogies” in Turkey, thus only option for them is to transship the loads to Azerbaijan/Georgian wagons at Akhalkalaki.
Although there’s a plan to construct a bogie change facility at Akhalkalaki, no big demand is expected, most probably limited to international passenger trains. Change of bogies take time and can be applied to only some of the wagons. The one in Samsun Port has never been used. Furthermore, due to technical limitations, the Azerbaijan/Georgian freight wagons are not expected to pass beyond Kars even with bogie change.
In this case, almost all transports will need transshipment between Turkish and Georgia/Azerbaijan wagons at Akhalkalaki. Then;
- The long distance “bogie changeable” passenger trains will stop at Akhalkalaki for long time,
- All trains which cannot change bogies will end their service at Akhalkalaki,
- All containers will be handled at Akhalkalaki terminals,
- Akhalkalaki will be a place where freight wagons will wait long, thus will be a good spot for maintenance and repair,
- Bulk loads will need suitable terminal areas,
- The liquid bulk loads coming with tank wagons will need transshipment/storage facilities.
Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway will help development of this Georgian city, and the services given at Akhalkalaki will play a great role in the success of Akhalkalaki. In every “break-of-gauge” spot all over the world, huge terminals are being constructed, the cities having these terminals transform to logistics centers.
However, the contribution of Georgia to this project is limited. All engineering works in Georgia about this project is funded by Azerbaijan, and yet has not been completed. There’s not a big terminal project at Akhalkalaki yet. In fact, a terminal dealing with 6.5 mn tonnes of freight (12-13 trains/day) and 1 mn passengers (9-10 train/day) should be 3-4 times bigger than the biggest rail terminal of Turkey.
Of course, it would be not suprising for Georgia to give priority to such a project. Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway will help increasing the transit rail traffic of Georgia. On the other hand, the country will lose important portion of traffic currently flowing to Georgian ports.
If Turkey, being the funder and constructer of this section, constructed the line as broad gauge instead of standard gauge, all above facilities would be constructed in Kars and Turkey would have the full power to guarantee successful installation of them.
Too late? Although laying of rails has not started yet, it seems Kars already missed this opportunity.
Cover Photo: Onur Uysal ©