BTK railway to further strengthen Baku-Ankara ties

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President Erdogan and Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev reviewed the guard of honor and saluted the Azerbaijani soldiers.

The track will be standard gauge on the Turkish section of the roughly 840-kilometer (522-mile) line, switching to the wider gauge used in the former Soviet Union for the Georgian and Azeri stretches.

The Republic of Azerbaijan, located at the strategic crossroads of Europe and Asia and nearby sizeable markets such as Turkey, China, Iran and Russian Federation, is poised to become the top choice for foreign investors aiming to expand their business in the region. Passenger services are also planned to start along the route next year, including sleeper-car trains between Baku and Istanbul.

Construction began in 2008 and the project was originally scheduled for completion in 2010, but the opening date has been repeatedly pushed back. It failed to win financial backing from the U.S. and the European Union because the railway deliberately avoided passing through Armenia, whose Soviet-era track would have offered the most direct route to Turkey. Not so Armenia, which has frosty relations with Turkey and virtually none with Azerbaijan, which cut off ties in the 1990s after Armenian-backed forces took control of a large swathe of its territory in and around Nagorno-Karabakh. The link between Turkey and Georgia is enabled using a border tunnel, of which some 2,375 meters lay in Turkey and 2,070 meters in the Georgia.

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The official opening ceremony of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway was held in Baku Oct. 30. The link "will create completely new possibilities not only in our region but beyond".

The BTK will have an initial capacity to transport 1 million passengers and 5 million tons of freight a year.

While the line offers a shorter route for transporting Chinese goods to Europe by rail, "the competition is really tough", said Akif Mustafayev, the permanent representative in Azerbaijan of the intergovernmental commission of Traceca, an EU-backed transport programme.

Its total cost surpassed $1 billion, with the bulk of the financing coming from Azerbaijan's state oil fund.

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