The 14,000km deal

As transnational agreements go, there may be none in recent history that rival a pact signed in Bangkok in June, in terms of the infrastructure development opportunities it brings.

The Trans-Asian Railway Network, signed at the United Nations’ Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), is set to coordinate the development and coordination of rail infrastructure spanning 28 Asian nations. The length of the network covered by the agreement is around 14,000 km.

The agreement is aimed to improve the efficiency of both passenger and freight rail transport throughout the continent, in addition to bettering the rail links between Asia and Europe. It is also intended to connect landlocked countries to major seaports, as well as having environmental goals, namely providing the opportunity to shift from road to rail transport.

The countries to put their signatures to the agreement include Cambodia, China, India, Mongolia, Republic of Korea, Russia, Tajikistan and Thailand.

The originations of the agreement date back to the 1960s, when the project was first touted by the commission as a solution to bridging the key trade route between Singapore and Istanbul.

One key aspect of the agreement is the identification of “dry ports” – train stations which the participant countries deem of national importance. A number of projects covered by the Trans-Asian Railway have already been completed since the agreement originally opened for signing in 2006, including the construction of the 227 km Tashguzar-Baysun-Kumkurgan line in Uzbekistan.

The next step in the process will see the establishment of a working group of ESCAP member states to discuss policies relating to the network. The first such meeting is expected to occur in December.

Considering it took half a century for the agreement to come into force, concrete results may not be immediately forthcoming. However, the mere fact that 28 countries including Asia’s great powers are willing to come together in order to improve their transport infrastructure is a cause for celebration.