Thursday, June 11, 2009


BANGKOK, June 12 (NNN-TNA):The Intergovernmental Agreement on the Trans-Asian Railway Network (TAR) came into force on Thursday, allowing countries throughout Asia to coordinate the development and operation of international rail routes linking 28 countries in the region.

The agreement took effect on Thursday, the ninetieth day after the governments of at least eight member states consented to be bound by its terms. The eight countries which already ratified the agreement with the UN Secretary-General are China, Cambodia, India, Mongolia, South Korea, Russia, Tajikistan and Thailand. The Republic of Georgia has also agreed to the terms of the pact, but its membership will take effect after 90 days.

Dr. Noeleen Heyzer, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) Executive-Secretary, said that the Trans-Asian Railway (TAR) network spans 114,000 kilometres linking 28 countries, providing regional connectivity and linkages to Europe via Russia and the Middle East via Iran.

Dr. Heyzer said, however, 8,300-kilometres of necessary linkages are still missing and an estimated budget of US$25 billion is required to complete construction. Many routes are being built, such as the rail lines linking Iran to Azerbaijan, Turkey to Georgia and Iran to Armenia.

Some routes have only recently been inaugurated, such as those connecting Thailand’s Nong Khai province to the Lao PDR’s Thanaleng district, adjacent to the its capital Vientiane.

The agreement is the second treaty which has been developed under ESCAP, beginning ain the 1960s, following the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Asian Highway Network, comprising of 141,000- kilometre of roadways, which entered into force on July 4, 2005.

Dr. Heyzer added that the TAR network, together with the Asian Highway, will help stimulate the economic recovery of member countries and create new economies of scale while reducing transportation costs. Trade will also be more distributed across the region, including landlocked countries and remote hinterland areas to create the so-called ‘dry ports’.

While many governments plan to invest in road construction to facilitate their growing cities and populations, Dr. Heyzer said that the Asian Railways network will be a better mode of transportation which can help reduce the negative environmental impact and concern over energy-dependency during periods of oil price fluctuations.

As many parts of the missing lines are in Southeast Asian region, Thailand’s Minister of Transport Sophon Zaram revealed the agreement is in accord with the policy of the Thai government to increase the role of the railway transport to reduce energy consumption and enhance the efficiency of the national logistics system.

Sophon said that the cross-border rail services between Thailand and Malaysia are already in place for passengers and freight. Thailand has also completed the railway tracks on the Thai border to connect with that of Cambodia’s rail network, with only a 48-kilometre line section between Poipet and Sisophon missing and under restoration.

Meanwhile, Sophon said that, regarding rail services to Myanmar, a feasibility study has been undertaken with the assistance of the South Korean government.

Barry Cable, director of the UNESCAP Transport Division, said with the entry into force of the agreement, a working group has been set up to consider challenges of the Asian Railway network such as the efficiency of cross-border rail services which depend on smooth border operations, as well as social and security issues which may occur following the operations.
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