RAILWAY

Kazakhstan 2018 | TRANSPORT | B2B

Rail in Kazakhstan has emerged as not only a viable transportation option to cut down on travelling time, but also as a tourism draw.

Roman Botabekov
ROMAN BOTABEKOV
Director General
Turan Express
Pascual Torres
PASCUAL TORRES
Director
Talgo

What led to the establishment of your company in Kazakhstan?

ROMAN BOTABEKOV I personally travel frequently, and the railway is one of the main means of travel for me. Here, there has never been such a service offering a high-quality, comfortable way of traveling by train. Kazakhstanis love traveling in general and they even celebrate weddings and other important events in trains, which was exactly why there was a need to create such a comfortable service. We started by participating in tenders for socially important routes that connect cities such as Almaty, Astana, Karaganda, and Shymkent. We have provided our service to more than 20 million passengers and as we explored the market, we realized it is missing the luxury travel option that could be offered to high-ranking officials, ambassadors visiting the country, and tourists that are willing and ready to pay for comfort and service.

PASCUAL TORRES During a meeting between Kazakhstan's President and the King of Spain, the issue of rail transportation came up and Talgo was recommended. Talgo brought in a six-coach train to pilot in 2000 and it was highly successful. Since then, Talgo has been developing and growing its presence in Kazakhstan. Talgo trains have shortened the journey time between Astana and Almaty by 50% compared to traveling by road without any additional investment in railway and just via the train speed itself. Demand in the country grew rapidly and we decided to build a factory and start manufacturing our own trains in Kazakhstan. Since then, we have built 436 coaches that are now being used all over Kazakhstan. In 2016, we started a new project to produce wider coaches and in 2016-2017 we built four new trains with 30 coaches each. Passengers in Kazakhstan like to travel in train carriages with more room and these new coaches will suit the market here.

What impact does the New Silk Road development have on your future growth strategy?

RB It definitely does, particularly as Kazakhstan neighbors China and is a major point on the route. Moreover, the concept of the New Silk Road currently being actively developed as the tourist flow from China to Europe is growing and the routes along the Silk Road are extremely popular. Kazakhstan is right at the heart of this route, which is why many tourists come to visit. We currently have an opportunity to contribute to its development: to make the route more known and popular with tourists. Kazakhstan has already become a transit country because of the wise policy of our president that allowed the creation of the necessary infrastructure. We have the potential to be a country of tourism, not just transit. This is the path that Kazakhstan should follow in its future development. As our experience has shown, people are ready to pay for comfort, quality, and a high level of service. Thus far, around 80,000 people have used the services of Turan Express to travel only on one route from Almaty. In 2018, we plan to create something similar to the Orient Express, but better and with a local, Kazakhstani flavor. The idea is to do it up in retro style and each wagon will has its own design, for example Russian, Belorussian, or Ukrainian, which we will also design.

How important is it to bring in innovation and concentrate on servicing and maintenance of your rail stock in Kazakhstan?

PT Today, we have 24 trains operating all over Kazakhstan covering various routes, and 21 of these trains were partially or fully manufactured in Kazakhstan. The functionality and lifespan of our trains has always been important. We give a lifespan of 40 years for each of our trains based on our experience in Spain. Another important factor is that Talgo trains can be used in Kazakhstan without having to invest too much money in the infrastructure; our trains can just be put on the tracks and run. The technological advantages of our trains include not only their speed and comfort, but also innovations such as an independently rotating and self-guiding wheel system and passive tilting system. The main reason Kazakhstan chose Talgo was not only because of this functionality, but also because our trains fit Kazakhstan's environment, climate, and infrastructure extremely well without the need for any major investment in the existing infrastructure. In Kazakhstan, our trains can now reach 200km/h, with a cruising speed of 160km/h. Kazakhstan has transport challenges due to its extreme climate, small population, and the long distances between cities. Building high-speed roads would be too expensive an option.