World Bank Grants $200m towards Uzbek Rail Project

On the heels of another significant investment in Central Asian infrastructure, the World Bank doled out an additional $200m to assist Uzbekistan Railways in the construction of a railway line that will traverse Kamchik pass in eastern Uzbekistan. The Bank is working hand in glove with Uzbek authorities in order to develop better rail infrastructure throughout the country. The recently-signed agreement is still subject to approval by the World Bank Board of Directors, whose authorization is expected to come as early as January of 2015. The loan will account for barely more than a tenth of the nearly $1.7b railway, which will add additional transit options for travelers as tourism booms within Uzbekistan. Chinese Railway Tunnel Group will contribute an additional $455m to the project, which will connect the Fergana Valley with the rest of Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan has already invested heavily in its railway infrastructure, using the increase in spending on infrastructure to increase its tourism industry. Uzbekistan’s bullet train, the Afrosiyob, is currently the only extant bullet train in Central Asia, and connects the country’s capital, Tashkent, with the ancient city of Samarkand, which sat on the Silk Road, and which is the country’s primary draw in terms of tourist traffic. In a paradoxical set of policies, the Uzbek government has set out to increase its status as a destination for international guests while reducing the amount of freedoms its own citizens enjoy. Already strict internet security laws have been tightened, human rights abuses and government corruption are widespread, and the country is rumored to be going through an internal power struggle.

Direct investment from organizations such as the World Bank reflects Uzbekistan’s geographically crucial status, as it straddles the line between East and West. While once a Soviet republic, Uzbekistan has in the last several years served as a key ally of the United States and provider of supply routes that ended in Afghanistan. A recent cancellation of all Russian-dominated money transfer services coincided with the World Bank’s rail infrastructure grant, suggesting a possible quid pro quo.

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