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KARS, Turkey -- Leaders of Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan have launched a railway project between the three countries, building on links already forged by gas and oil pipelines.

At a railway station in the eastern Turkish border town of Kars, the presidents of the three countries held a ground-breaking ceremony for the $290 million Turkish section of the railway.

The three countries are already linked by the BP-led Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas line but trade links between Turkey and the Caucasus region are limited.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul, Georgia's Mikheil Saakashvili, and Azerbaijan's Ilham Aliyev placed three sections of railway track on a large map of the region in a symbolic launch of the project as confetti showered down.

A tender last September for construction of the 76-kilometer Turkish stretch of the railway was won by the Ozgun Yapi-Celikler joint venture with a bid of $289.8 million, the lowest of 14 bids.

The project involves new track construction and renewal of existing track, and is expected to be completed in 2011.