The 826-km (513-mile) railway project connecting Baku with Turkey's northeastern Kars province via Tbilisi was launched in 2007 and construction began in 2008.

Turkish President Erdogan, Azerbaijani President Aliyev, Georgian Premier Kvirikashvili attended the launch ceremony in Baku.
Turkish President Erdogan, Azerbaijani President Aliyev, Georgian Premier Kvirikashvili attended the launch ceremony in Baku. (AA)

The leaders of Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Georgia launched an 826-kilometre (500-mile) rail link connecting the three countries on Monday, establishing a freight and passenger link between Europe and China.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, during an inauguration ceremony in Baku along with Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev and Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili, said the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railway project is a crucial step for the future.

As one of the land routes along China’s One Belt One Road initiative passes through Turkey, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Georgia, the railway projects being launched under the banner of the “Iron Silk Road” are significant because they are connecting these regions for the first time.

"The most important leg of the Middle Corridor Project [to unite Europe and Asia via Anatolia] is fulfilled with the first service of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway," Erdogan said.

The 826 km (513-mile) railway project connecting Baku with Turkey's northeastern Kars province via Tbilisi was launched in 2007 and construction began in 2008.

The line, which includes 105 kms of new track, will have the capacity to transport one million passengers and 6.5 million tonnes of freight.

Erdogan said this capacity would rise to three million passengers and 17 million tons of freight by 2034.

"Of course, this will substantially reduce the cost of freight," he added.

The three countries are linked by the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas line, but trade links between Turkey and the Caucasus region are limited. 

The new Baku–Tbilisi–Kars railway (BTK) promises to provide an economic boost to the region.

'Priceless' project

President Erdogan also said the project was "priceless" since it was "laboriously and devotedly" carried out. 

"So, we declare the establishment of a continuous railway link from London to China," he added.

Starting in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, trains will stop in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, pass through gauge-changing facilities in the Georgian town of Akhalkalaki and end their journey in the Turkish town of Kars.

The project's total cost rose to more than $1 billion from an initial estimate of about $400 million. The bulk of that financing came from Azerbaijan's state oil fund.

Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev said the railway project was the result of the "brotherhood" of the three countries involved.

"Several European countries have expressed an interest in this project and Azerbaijan is in talks with them," Aliyev said, adding Kazakhstan and other countries in Central Asia were interested in transporting their goods via the BTK.

The new link will reduce journey times between China and Europe to around 15 days, which is more than twice as fast as the sea route at less than half the price of flying.

Trains can depart from cities in China, 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 directly onto the BTK and head to Europe.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies