Milestone as trial run is held on Afghanistan’s first railway service

The first train has run on Afghanistan’s first major railway service.

The new line in the country’s north should ease the US military’s supply flow and is key to future trade.

Deputy Public Works Minister Noor Gul Mangal said the cargoless train chugged into Mazar-i-Sharif yesterday after a 47-mile (75km) trial run from the border with Uzbekistan.

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It is the first stage in a plan to link landlocked Afghanistan to its neighbours’ extensive railways.

Afghanistan has never had a functional rail network, though many projects have been begun and later abandoned, victims of manoeuvres of the 19th century Great Game rivalry between Russia and Britain, and then political bickering in the early 20th century. Soviet occupiers abandoned a few rail projects in the 1980s, and later years of bitter civil war made such construction impossible.

So the line from the border town of Hairatan to Mazar-i-Sharif marks a milestone in a violence-wracked country eager for good news. It also could be a key route for the US troop withdrawal beginning next year and, eventually, a gateway for Afghan exports, said Fred Starr, of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at Johns Hopkins University in Washington

“It’s actually a big deal. It’s very significant both practically and symbolically.”