Erdogan officially welcomed in Baku

Turkish PM thanks Georgian PM for contribution to Baku-Tbilisi-Kars Railway

Starting in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, trains will stop in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, pass through gauge-changing facilities in the Georgian town of Akhalkalaki and end their journey in the Turkish town of Kars.

The BTK project is part of Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev larger strategy to diversify the country's oil-rich economy and turn it into a trade and logistics hub in Eurasia. This route will provide a passage to Kazakhstan to reach Turkey--the Europe. Passenger services are also planned to start along the route next year, including sleeper-car trains between Baku and Istanbul. A trade volume of $120 million is expected with this move and trade with the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, which is an exclave in Azerbaijan bordering Armenia, Turkey and Iran, will be done in Turkish lira.

Construction began in 2008 and the project was originally scheduled for completion in 2010, but the opening date has been repeatedly pushed back.

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The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railway will further strengthen Azerbaijani-Turkish relations, Erdem Eren, Turkish foreign policy expert and chief coordinator of the Beyaz Harekat political movement, told Trend Oct. 31. Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 in support of Azerbaijan as the two former Soviet neighbours fought a war over the disputed territory.

The inauguration at the Port of Baku in Alat, Azerbaijan was attended by Azerbaijan president Ilham Aliyev, president Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Kazakhstan's prime minister Bakytzhan Sagintayev, prime minister of Georgia Giorgi Kvirikashvili and Uzbekistan prime minister Abdulla Aripov. The link "will create completely new possibilities not only in our region but beyond".

"The BTK is the shortest and most reliable route connecting Europe with Asia".

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Initially the railway is expected to carry almost 1 million passengers and 6.5 million tons of freight annually before unlocking a freight transportation potential of up to 50 million tons per year.

Azerbaijan hasn't disclosed the total cost of the project, though it agreed to lend $775m from its sovereign wealth fund to Georgia to finance work on the Georgian section of the railway.

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