TRACK IN TIME

Azerbaijan 2012 | TRANSPORT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Arif Asgarov, Chief of Azerbaijan Railways JSC, on the upgrade program for the rail fleet, and the role of Azerbaijan in the TRACECA network.

Arif Asgarov
BIOGRAPHY
Arif Asgarov was born in 1961. He entered the Tashkent Institute of Railway Transportation Engineers in 1977, and graduated from the Department of Economy and Management of Railways in 1982. He then began work as an inspector at the Finance Department of the Baku section of the railway from 1982 to 1989 before becoming Deputy Chief and Chief of Accounting and Finance at the Azerbaijan Railway Institution from 1989 to 1993. Following this position, Asgarov was awarded the titles of General Director of AzerRail between 1994 and 1996 and Chief of Railway Finance from 1996 to 2000. Arif Asgarov was appointed to the position of Chief of Azerbaijan State Railways by President Ilham Aliyev in 2004. He is currently the Chief of Azerbaijan Railways JSC.

What measures is Azerbaijan Railways taking to update the existing network and its facilities?

At present, the length of the main railway is 2,909 kilometers, 802 kilometers of which is dual track. Approximately 60% of the railway is equipped with an electrical signaling system and 1,522-kilometers of the railway is automated. The decree signed by HE President Ilham Aliyev on July 6, 2010 approved the “State Program on the Development of the Railway System in the Azerbaijan Republic from 2010-2014," and initiated capital repair work along 317 kilometers of the railway from Baku to Boyuk Kesik. Under the state program, five of Azerbaijan Raiways' CME3 locomotives were repaired at a plant in Nymburk, Czech Republic before being brought back to the country. Additionally, four of our CME3 locomotives have been sent for repairs in Slovakia and two to Ukraine. Four VL-11 electric locomotives were delivered to Georgia for maintenance. New machines produced by Germany's ROBEL were purchased to reduce the amount of the company's manual labor, and five trolley cars produced by the Tikhoretsk machine-building company were brought to the country on September 6, 2010. Five of the 20 coaches to be repaired were sent to the Sazvrudki plant in Slovakia, and these trains were delivered back to Azerbaijan on October 28, 2011.

What plans does the company have to improve the network in the future?

The state program calls for the reconstruction of railways, power supplies, communication facilities, and service buildings at the Yalama and Boyuk Kesik border stations; the reconstruction of railways, contact networks, communication and telecommunication stations, power-collecting stations, and service buildings at the Bilajari and Sangachal junctions; the establishment of fiber-optic communication lines on the Yalama-Bilajari section of the railway; the upgrading of power stations and equipment at Kurdemir, Barda, Govlar, Deller, Shemkir, Shirvan, and Alabashli stations; the renovation of one-way and double-sided auto-blocking along the Osmanli-Astara stretch; the improvement of water transportation equipment at Bilajari station; and the installation of an automatized management system for cargo and passenger transportation across the railway network.

What challenges does Azerbaijan Railways face in expanding the network?

Azerbaijan Railways is actively participating in the realization of the North-South and Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) international and regional transportation projects. In addition to the realization of the North-South international transportation corridor, we intend to construct railways that connect Azerbaijan with Iran, for which we will construct 8.4 kilometers of rail and four stations of 1,050 meters in length each. During the initial stages, two of the four stations will be sufficient. As the volume of transportation increases, additional measures will be taken to expand the railway. Currently, the renovation of the existing Baku-Boyuk Kesik railway is playing an important role in the operation of the new BTK railway, which is set to begin operating in 2013.

What are the benefits of the BTK railway connection?

This railway has attracted the attention of the governments and the heads of companies in Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey. The BTK railway will create wider opportunities for the three countries and others interested in using the transportation services of this corridor to establish close transportation connections. “This project is of a great historical significance," HE President Ilham Aliyev said, adding that it “will connect Europe with Asia and Azerbaijan with Turkey through rail, and is of great importance to our economic and political future." The BTK railway is expected to transport cargo of 5 million tons initially, and up to 15 million tons in the future.

Do you expect the volume of cargo to increase in the coming few years, considering the growing importance of the Transport Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Asia (TRACECA) Program?

Azerbaijan Railways began to participate in several international transportation corridors as early as 1996, but TRACECA is considered the most important yet. This area covers the territory of the Silk Road from Baku to Boyuk Kesik—the border of Georgia—providing access to third countries. The volume of cargo transportation is expected to increase heavily after the launch of the BTK connection. Kazakhstan has already expressed its intentions to transport 10 million tons of cargo through this corridor, which is favorable from an economic and security viewpoint. The technical updates and reconstruction work being conducted as part of the TRACECA Program aims to ensure an increasing volume of transportation, and proves that there are great prospects for Azerbaijan Railways. Our company plays an integral role in the TRACECA project and the region overall.

What achievements were made in 2011, and what is expected in 2012?

In the year 2011, 3.4 million passengers traveled from Azerbaijani railway stations, including 2.9 million with direct connections and 1.5 million people at local connections. The overall passenger turnover was 6.7 million passengers per kilometer. In terms of density, each coach transported approximately 21 passengers. The launch of online ticket sales on November 21, 2011 contributed to these positive outcomes. We installed two monitors at the Baku passenger station cashiers' hall and one monitor at the Ganja railway station, which are used to inform passengers about seat availability on each train. We began accepting non-cash payments for travel at Baku Station in January 2012. Our newly installed equipment will ensure that payment through POS terminals is being processed. In this way, we are working to improve the quality of the services we deliver to our passengers.

What training programs and academic courses are available to improve the human resources in the railway sector?

Several programs are being carried out and developed. One such project is the Human Resource Development for public investments, which is based on the agreement between the government of Azerbaijan and the International Development Association (IDA). To date, 57 of our company's specialists have participated in training programs organized by the Ministry of Education.

Internationally accepted certificates have been issued to specialists who finished training courses on project design and management, transportation management, cooperation between the public and private sectors, financial management based on the standards of the international financial institutes, and a number of other courses. Meanwhile, we offered training courses concerning the implementation of international financial accounting standards under a railway trade and transportation project with the support of G&G Consulting in February and March 2012. These training programs were conducted in two stages, covering topics such as the fundamentals of accounting, the significance of balance sheets for administrative accounts, management accounting, expenditure and revenue sources, expenditure and expense items, and calculating net value. Courses will be held throughout the year.

What is the importance of the cooperation between international transportation organizations and financial institutions?

Recently, every transportation company has been developing relationships with international financial organizations. As a result of the President's support, we have signed credit agreements with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) that allocated an amount of $450 million in support of railway trade and transportation, and with the Czech Export Bank for an additional €215 million to develop the railways and improve infrastructure. The authorities have accepted bids from 10 holdings to participate in the qualification round for designing, supplying, and installing a 27.5 kW system, which includes sub-stations and equipment related to signaling for the railway network. At the same time, we intend to purchase 50 new electrical locomotives with alternating current capability.