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New China-Europe `Silk Road’ Line Inaugurated in Azerbaijan

Oct. 30 — There was great enthusiasm in Baku, Azerbaijan today as the head of state of that country, Ilham Aliyev, was joined by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili in a ceremony to inaugurate the new 826 km. Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railway, which was set to take off on its maiden trip to Europe. According to {The Daily Sabah}, the BTK is a “key link in the modern Silk Road Railway” that will carry goods between Beijing and London. Initially, it is expected to carry almost one million passengers and 6.5 million tons of freight annually, but aims to transport up to 50 million tons a year when it reaches its full potential.

Also present at the ceremony was the U.S. ambassador Robert Cekuta, who noted that the BTK railroad is an important part of the New Silk Road, the Azeri news service APA reported.
President Erdogan, who is also in Baku for a two-day visit commemorating the 25th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations between Turkey and Azerbaijan, said at the ceremony that “Baku-Tblisi-Kars is part of a big Silk Road and it’s important that we have implemented this project using our own funds,” most of the $1 billion of which came from Azerbaijan’s state oil fund. Erdogan emphasized that the project will bring “peace, security, stability and prosperity and will contribute to the development of our countries.”

The {Daily Sabah} points out that, as “one of the land routes in the scope of China’s One Belt, One Road Initiative passes through Turkey, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Georgia, the railway projects being launched in the context of the `Iron Silk Road’ have gained significance as they are connecting the regions.” The transportation from Georgia to Turkey is provided via a border tunnel, some 2,375 meters of which are within Turkey’s borders, while 2,070 meters are on the Georgian side. Thanks to the railway network linking the Middle East to Europe via the 13.6 km Marmaray rail connection, “transportation between Turkey and Asia, the Caucasus and European countries will be easier,” {Sabah} predicts.

The new line will reduce travel time from China to Europe to 15 days, twice as fast as the sea route, at half the cost of air freight. Trains can depart from Chinese cities, cross into Kazakhstan at the Khorgos Gateway, be transported across the Caspian Sea by ferry to the new port of Baku and then be loaded onto the BTK to head for Europe. President Aliyev said that several European countries are interested in the project and that his government is in talks with them. Kazakhstan is very interested in transporting goods via the BTK line.

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