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Armenian Railway 'Still Readying' For Turkish Border Opening

Train cars sit idle on a disused section of railway connecting Armenia and Turkey.
YEREVAN -- The head of Russia's state railway (RZD) says its Armenian subsidiary is continuing technical preparations for the possible opening of the Turkish-Armenian border and the renewed rail communication between the two countries, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

The statement comes as progress has stalled in normalizing ties between Turkey and Armenia and reopening their border after a century of hostility.

"We are conducting work on the future exploitation of the border crossing with Turkey," RZD chief Vladimir Yakunin told reporters in Yerevan. "Although this issue has not yet been solved, we will nonetheless be working on the rail component."

"Naturally, in our strategies, we proceed from the assumption that sooner or later the political problems [between Armenia and Turkey] will be settled," Yakunin said.

The Armenian railway network, which is managed by RZD, began upgrading a railway station and other infrastructure near the Turkish-Armenian border shortly after Yerevan and Ankara made significant progress in fence-mending negotiations in late 2008. The subsequent stalling of the normalization process in April made the border's opening highly unlikely in the foreseeable future.

RZD took over the struggling network, now called the South Caucasus Railway (SCR), in January 2008 in accordance with a long-term management contract signed with the Armenian government.

The deal committed the Russians to investing $230 million in Armenia during the first five years of operations and another $240 million in the following years. The government has repeatedly accused RZD, until recently, of failing to honor this and other contractual obligations.

SCR's chief executive, Shevket Shaydulin, said in late December that RZD investments in the network had soared in 2009.

Yakunin also defended his company's track record in Armenia, saying RZD boosted capital investments despite the global recession. He also pointed to
Yerevan’s newly renovated main rail station, which he inaugurated on June 30 together with Transport Minister Manuk Vartanian.

The RZD chief met with Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian later on June 30. A government statement said Sarkisian "highly assessed bilateral cooperation" with the Russian rail giant.