Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Follow the Yellow Silk Road!

I seem to be running further and further behind in the articles that require publishing. But breaking news events crossing my desk shove "works in progress" to the back of the queue!

This article will "connect the dots" between the significance of the opening a a new rail line, to the overall development of Afghanistan's astonishing mineral wealth potential, with a number of countries plans for profiteering, including the US. So bear with me.

[This story will mean more to you, if you are old enough to remember Air America and the Golden Triangle.]

My investigation began with an article published in the Turkmenistan Tourism Newswire back in August 2011. In that issue, a story by Nicklas Norling heralds an event that, to the best of my knowledge, never made it to the USA by our increasingly impotent news gathering organizations. Norling wrote:

"The opening of Afghanistan's first major railroad in August promises transformative economic and geopolitical changes that are yet to be fully understood. The recent completion of a railroad line from the Afghan-Uzbek border to Mazar-i-Sharif will be complemented by a railroad from Iran.

"Along with railroads planned by China and Pakistan, this will create economic synergies as Afghanistan is integrated with the railroads of its neighbors. Geopolitically, the Afghan railroads dovetail with China's massive railroad program in Central Asia, Pakistan and Iran.

Further, as Iran, Pakistan and Russia are hedging their bets on a U.S. troop withdrawal, railroads will strengthen their influence in Afghanistan. The railroad frenzy should be seen in this light."

So, does this mean someday soon, we will be train chasing General Motors SD70's or General Electric "Toaster Ovens" in Afghanistan? I think not. There are too many competent locomotive designers and manufactures in Russia, Europe and Asia capable of supplying modern locomotives. Two of the bigger players include:
  • Bryansk Machine Building Plant manufactures diesel-electric and electric locomotives. BMBP in Russia is the largest manufacturer of rolling stock in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), as well as marine engines.
  • China South Locomotive and Rolling Stock Corporation (CSR) in China, is another major player, with recent deliveries in the CIS.

The Back Story

December 24, 1979. Russian troops entered Afghanistan, ostensibly to support the seated Afghan government involved in a civil war with the Mujaheddin.

The Amu Darya, [Darya = river] forming the border between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, posed a major obstacle for supporting the Russian initiative. Material and supplies had to be barged across the river to support the Russian troops.

1982. The Russians compete the "Friendship Bridge." The bridge is 820 meters (2,690 feet) long and 15 meters (49 feet) wide. A single rail line bisects the motor vehicle lanes. Enters Afghanistan at Hairatan.

February 16, 1989. The last Russians leave Afghanistan, crossing Friendship Bridge, led by Lt. Gen. Boris V. Gromov. The Russian Army had been in country nine years and 50 days.

September 9, 2001. President Bush signs detailed plans for a worldwide war against al-Qaida two days before Sept. 11th, but did not have the chance to launch his plan before the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

October 1, 2001. US troops finally invade Afghanistan.

December 9, 2001. Following extensive repairs, Uzbek and Afghan authorities reopen Friendship Bridge, and sign an agreement on the passage of humanitarian cargo across the structure.

Dirt Trails to Steel Rails

The most famous trade routes in Eurasia were known collectively known as the Silk Road. The Silk Road was not one well-established road, but a complex, constantly-changing network of land and sea routes between China, the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and Europe that was in operation roughly from the 1st century B.C. to the A.D. 15th century.

The name "Silk Road" was coined in 1870 by German geographer Ferdinand van Richthofen, the uncle of the WWI German Ace, Red Baron. [] Afghanistan was part of that ancient network. Now, in 2011, Afghanistan finds itself in the center of a dramatic revival of the Silk Road, with steel rails replacing dirt trails.

Afghanistan made several feeble attempts to build a railroad. The efforts were short lived, and faded into obscurity. In recent years, a number of studies have been completed, many of which came to the same conclusion. For the county to flourish, it had to establish a rail transportation system.

The nearest "port of entry" for rail is Termez, just across the Friendship Bridge from Afghanistan, in neighboring Uzbekistan. The relationship between the United States and Uzbekistan has been battered by human rights abuses. (Where else in the world is boiling a human in oil recognized as a form of punishment?) Undeterred by such trivial matters, General Motors recently opened an engine plant in Tashkent.

This warm "touchie-feelie" relationship brought about by the railroad project, is in sharp contrast to the fact that the border between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan is the second "most intense" border in the world, eclipsed only by the North - South Korean border!

It consists of a barbed wire fence and a second, taller, 380-volt electrified barbed-wire fence, land mines and a patrol of heavily armed Uzbek soldiers! It stretches along the entire Uzbek-Afghan frontier stretching 209 km (130 miles) defined by the Amu River, from Turkmenistan to Tajikistan.

The Hairatan-Mazar-i-Sharif rail project is the first substantial common carrier railroad project in Afghanistan. The 75km (46 mile) rail link connects Hairatan on the Uzbekistan-Afghan border to the city of Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan. The state-owned Uzbekistanllari (UTY) built the project.

The Hairatan - Mazar-i-Sharif railway line is built on a flat plain and has an elevation of 350 to 550m. (1,148 to 1,804 feet.) It is a featureless, barren land with no natural vegetation. The railroad is a 1,520mm (4'8½") standard gauge with passing loops at every 20km (12 miles.) Each loop is 1.7km (1 mile) long and designed to accommodate trains with 100 wagons (cars.)

Construction began in January 22, 2010 and was completed in May 2010. The first train consisting of one locomotive and seven coaches traveled the line on August 21, 2011.

Estimated cost was (USD) $170m, of which the Asian Development Bank (ADB) provided $165m. The Afghan Government provided the remaining $5m.

[Ed Note: How did they raise $5M? From US tax payers?]

The rail line was constructed by [U]Uzbekistan [T]temir [Y]yullari - Uzbekistan Railways (UTY). UTY will operate the Hairatan to Mazar-i-Sharif line until such time as Afghans can be trained to operate locomotives. To be clear - Afghanistan does not own locomotives or rolling stock.

The state railway company Uzbekistan Railways (UTY) is one of the largest in Central Asian region. It was established in 1994.

The rail project did not require any new investments in rolling stock because Uzbekistan vehicles have been used. Uzbekistan obtained its railway fleet from the Soviet Union during the separation in 1991.

If the Russian built TEM2 looks suspiciously like an early ALCo product, your suspicion is correct. Tobias Köhler, wrote:

"The Alco RSD 1 were built from 1942, some delivered to the US Army, 70 were shipped to the Soviet Railways and further diesel developments. The Russian TEM series were derived from them."

Helmut Uttenthaler wrote:

"Four years ago [August, 2007] Uzbekistan opened the new line Tashguzar - Kumkurgan. With this line, they connected Termez (from where the line to Afghanistan starts) to the rest of the Uzbek railway network. Before that, trains had to go via Turkmenistan to reach Termez." Study map below.

Is the War in Afghanistan a profit driven "Resource War?"

Afghan officials believed the American estimates of the value of Afghanistan's mineral deposits - nearly $1 trillion -were too conservative, and that they could be worth as much as $3 trillion.

(Gee. I wonder if the American Taxpayers can recoup some of the money we've sent to keep Afghanistan afloat?)

Complicating the development of Afghanistan's mineral deposits is rampant corruption in the private sector and government, a raging insurgency -Taliban - that threaten personnel and transportation, and a lack of highway and rail infrastructure.

From an article appearing in the New York Times last year:

"It has long been known that Afghanistan had significant deposits of gemstones, copper and other minerals, but United States officials say they have discovered and documented major, previously unknown deposits, including copper, iron, gold and industrial metals like lithium.

"But executives with international mining firms said in interviews that while they believed that Afghanistan's mineral deposits held great potential, their businesses were not planning to move into the country until the war was over and the country more stable.

"There are huge deposits there," said David Beatty, chief executive of Rio-Novo Gold, a mining company based in Toronto. "But as chief executive, would I send a team to Kandahar? And then call a guy's wife after he gets shot? No."

Indeed, Afghanistan expects to rely on international economic aid until 2025, The Washington Post reports. I wonder if the "average tax payer" is even aware of just what we are sending to Afghanistan, while our kids are sharing beat up school books!

Among those lining up for the Fête Costumée: China, Japan, South Korea and India.

Within an hours drive from Kabul, two massive iron ore reserves have been identified, the Hajigak iron ore deposit and the Syadara iron ore deposit. Last month, Afghanistan awarded a number of concessions for mineral development. India and Canada will begin developing the Hajigak Iron Ore Deposit. Canada's Kilo Goldmines, Ltd. was included, based on their outstanding record of resource development.

New Chinese mining camp in Afghanistan. Note protective wall.

Meanwhile, China Metallurgical Group has signed an agreement to construct 718 km (446 mile) rail line from Afghanistan to Pakistan.

Notice the recently completed Hairatan - Mazar-i-Sharif, forms the hub for north-south and east-west rail infrastructure development.

And the BBC Business News reported today (Dec 26, 2011) "China has gained potential access to millions of barrels of oil after it won approval for oil exploration and extraction in Afghanistan. Afghans approved an agreement allowing China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) to develop a field holding an estimated 87 million barrels of oil."

So. Where does the United States figure in this modern day land rush for Afghanistan's mineral wealth? Well, back in January 2011, Afghan Krystal Natural Resources announced it had signed a USD $50M deal [ed note: "Where did they get that money?" I understood they were broke] backed by foreign investors, to develop the country's second gold mine, a project the government hopes will attract more money to the war-torn region.

Question. Who could those "foreign investors" be?

None other than J P Morgan. You remember JP Morgan. This Wall Street gangster was the recipients of a USD $2.75t (trillion) bailout from the Fed (read US taxpayers!)

Like you, I thought once bin-Laden was slain, the United States would begin withdrawing from Afghanistan. Nope!

So. The question becomes one of, "How long do you think the United States will have troops stationed in Afghanistan?" After all, someone is going to have to protect profiteer JP Morgan's latest investment!

Hairatan-Mazar-i-Sharif Railroad

Suggested Reading:
I hope this article has stimulated your desire to learn more about Afghanistan. And while I believe our troops should have been on the next bus out of town after bin Laden was assassinated, I made a conscious effort not to politicize this story. On the other hand. a spade IS a spade.

However! If you can "connect the dots," and "read between the lines," you, like me, will be totally stunned to realize the implications of mineral development affecting the economic growth potential for Afghanistan and foreign profiteering.

Technical details for TEM2

"A Russia Classic, based on the ALCo RS-1, 70 were shipped to Soviet Railways." The TEM2 is a refinement of the TEM1. The TEM1 was based on the Alco RSD-1. As a "hood unit," use in the Russian climate was difficult. The fact is, many Russian engineers favored Baldwin diesel designs over ALCo to mimic.

In the end, Joseph Stalin gave the order to build a comparable locomotive based on RSD-1. And many were built! The Penzenskiy works set about manufacturing the TEM1 Classin 1951, and a more advanced version as shown here, the TEM2 Class, began production in 1960. Mass production of this Class began in 1968 at Bryansk Machine. Turbo charging increased horsepower 1,000 hp to 1,200 hp. (TEM1 migration to TEM2).
  • Production dates: prototypes 1960, production 1967 - 1989
  • Numbers built: thousands (A GP-9 phenomena)
  • Gauge: "Russian gauge, 1520 mm (4′ 11) commonly rounded up to 5' gauge.
  • Users: Eesti Raudtee EVR, RZD, Sillamäe Sadam, Spacecom, Transoil, et al!
  • Seen in: Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, probably much of the ex. Eastern Europe and anywhere where 1520 mm (4'11") gauge is common.
  • Engine: Penza PD1, 4 stroke 6 cylinder, turbocharged PD1M available from 1968.
  • Throttle Positions including idle: 16
  • Power output: 880 kW (1,180 Hp) at 750 rpm
  • Transmission: Diesel electric DC
  • Traction motors: ETM EDT-340V>ED-104B-ED118A, 108 kW x 6
  • Tractive Effort: 206 kN at slow speeds (46,311 pounds)
  • Wheel arrangement: Co'Co'
  • Wheel diameter: 1050 mm (41.3")
  • Maximum operational speed where possible: 100 km/h (62 mph)
  • Length: 17 m
  • Height: 14'-04"
  • Width: 9'-11"
  • Center Bolster: 33'-00" / 32'-05"
  • Center Front Truck to Front Pilot: 9'-03" / 6'-11"
  • Center Rear Truck to Rear Pilot: 9'-03" / 6'-07"
  • Distance between Truck Centers: 43'-06" / 36'-06"
  • Weight: 120 - 125 metric tons (132 to 137 short tons US)
  • Axle weight max: 20,6 tons
  • Range of Ages : 7-18 years
  • Transmashholding TEM2 Rebuild Program, including ECP brake system.
"TEM" stands in this case for:
• [T] teplovoz (diesel locomotive)
• s[E] elektricheskoj peredachej (with electrical transmission)
• [M] manevrovyj (Rangierer)
Thus, the TEM2 is a diesel electric Rangierlokomotive, in the case an advancement of the TEM1.(from "westring")

"Russian" SA3 couplers

The Russian SA3 coupler was introduced during the rebuilding of the railway network in Soviet Union after WWII used on the whole broad gauge network, including Finland and Uzbekistan, Mongolia, Iraq and on Malmbanan in Sweden for ore trains. And now, Afghanistan.

Couplers interconnect similar to the AAR or Janney coupler. There is a lot of information on this page. Be sure to click the animated .gif, clearly demonstrating the connect. (Use Bablefish to translate Russian to English.)

Russian trains are rarely longer than about 750m (2,460 ft),rarely exceed a maximum tonnage of about 6,000 tons.

Force to break the SA-3 coupler is about 300 tons (2.9 MN; 660,000 foot/pounds.)

Maximum allowed tractive effort to the SA-3 is limited to 135 tonnes-force (1.32 MN; 298,000 foot/pounds.)

The proposed European automatic coupler is compatible with the Russian coupler but with automatic air, control and power connections.

Last, but certainly not least, an article as complex as this could not be possible without the valuable input from a number of sources, including Tobias Köhler, Helmut Uttenthaler, and Jim Sender. Thank you, Gentlemen!

For more of America disappearing in the rear view mirror, read.

4 Comments - Click here: said...

This is a monumental piece of reporting. So many facts and amazing photos! While our US Government squabbles, the 'third world' is poised for monumental wealth and accomplishment.
This is an outstanding story, brought to life with wonderful photos and explanatory maps with clarity of historial events in an amazing country. Thank you for relentless search for truth.

Eric said...

Most interesting, thought-provoking posts, Robert. I can appreciate one's blog post schedule being upset - this has happened to me, and Christmas holidays have again become Trackside Treasure prep time, big time.

The ramp gunner over that rail line is an intriguing image. (Using those in North America might cut down on trespassers). Like you, I wouldn't want to politicize things, just to note many Canadian troops, including several I know, participated in the Afghan mission while the US was moving into Iraq. For such a dusty woebegone country, it seems that something else lies beneath the shifting sands...

Thanks again for researching and sharing all this,

Anonymous said...

Great information.
Howver, slight correction the Hairatan - Mazar-i-Sharif railroad is Russian Gauge.

"The railroad is a 1,520mm (4'8½") standard gauge" The statement should read "The railroad is a 1,520mm (4'11 5⁄6") russian gauge"

Standard gauge is 1,435 mm

Anonymous said...

"The railroad is a 1,520mm (4'8½") standard gauge with passing loops at every 20km (12 miles.)"

1,520mm is Russian gauge, not standard gauge.

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