The first official train in Baku-Tbilisi-Kars Railway (BTK) will depart from Azerbaijan's capital Baku with an official ceremony on October 30, Turkish Transport, Maritime and Communications Minister Ahmet Arslan announced Friday.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will also attend to the ceremony, Arslan added.
The BTK Railway project, completes the crucial railway link between Turkey and Azerbaijan, severed due to poor relations with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh row, by connecting the eastern Turkish province of Kars with the Azeri capital Baku on the Caspian Sea through the Georgian capital Tbilisi.
The railway will boost the freight transport between Turkey and landlocked Central Asian countries, while serving as an alternative trade route for the recently developing rail transport between Asia and Europe in general.
First private train operator hits the tracks
Arslan's announcement came at a signing ceremony between Turkish State Railways (TCDD) and Omsan Logistics for awarding Turkey's first private train operator status following a legislative reform introduced in 2013, allowing private train operators to use TCDD-owned network alongside the public-owned operator TCDD Transport.
OMSAN will initially rent 15 electric locomotives and 350 ore wagons to transport iron ore from mines in central Turkey's Sivas province to the İsdemir Iron and Steel Plant in southern Turkey's port city of İskenderun, which are all group companies of Oyak Holding, one of Turkey's largest industrial conglomerates.
Emphasizing their efforts for a railway market with fair competition and healthy structure, Arslan called on to the private sector to shoulder its responsibility and take part in the growing railway freight transport sector.
Arslan noted that Turkey has invested heavily in rail transport in recent years, which includes restoring a 10,000 kilometer part of the existing 11,000 kilometer conventional rail network, laying additional 1,213 kilometers of high-speed and 1,600 kilometers of conventional tracks, the signalization of a 3,000 kilometer section and increasing the length of electrified tracks by 2,200 kilometers.
He added that Turkey aims to extend its rail network to 25,000 kilometers by 2023 through extending high-speed, fast and conventional tracks by 3,500, 8,500 and 1,000 kilometers, respectively.