Wednesday, November 25, 2015

New Chinese Railway from Xinjiang to Iran Undercuts Russian Influence in Central Asia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 25 – The China Railway Corporation has announced plans to build a high-speed rail line to Iran via Central Asia. Not only will this railway bypass Russia, something Moscow has very much feared, but it will reduce Russian influence in that region because the new line will use the international gage rather than the Russian one.

            Initially, the Chinese government company says, the new line, which is intended to link China with Europe, will follow existing Russian gage tracks in Central Asia. (Russian tracks are 1520 mm apart, while those of most of the rest of the world are 1435 mm.) But in time, Central Asian rail lines seeking to work with the Chinese will likely go over to the world standard.

            For China or anyone else to work with Russian rails has meant serious delays at the border because rail cars have to be lifted off wheels set for one gage and put them on others set for the other gage. For those who want to use Russia as a place of transit, that imposes two sets of delays and thus higher costs (

            The new Chinese line will connect Urumchi in Xinjiang to Tehran, passing through Almaaty in Kazakhstan as well as the capitals of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.  As such, it will undoubtedly have as much a political impact as an economic one, being both a rebuff to Russia ( and an encouragement to people there to look to it rather than Russian routes for transport (

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