Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey have launched a rail link connecting the three countries, establishing a freight and passenger link between Europe and China that bypasses Russia and Armenia.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev oversaw the October 30 inauguration ceremony for the new Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railroad in the town of Alyat, 70 kilometers southwest of Baku.
The event was also attended by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the prime ministers of Georgia, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan.
Aliyev said at the ceremony that the 826-kilometer railroad is the "shortest and most reliable link between Asia and Europe."
"Several European countries have expressed an interest in this project and Azerbaijan is in talks with them," the Azerbaijani president also said, adding that Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries were interested in transporting their goods via the new rail link.
Erdogan said “it's important that we have implemented this project using our own funds."
The BTK will have an initial capacity to transport 1 million passengers and 5 million tons of freight a year.
The project, which included 105 kilometers of new track, was launched in 2007. Its completion had been postponed several times since 2011.
Its total cost surpassed $1 billion, with the bulk of the financing coming from Azerbaijan's state oil fund.
After departing China, trains will cross into Kazakhstan at the Khorgos Gateway before being transported by ferry across the Caspian Sea toward Baku and then heading to Western Europe via Georgia and Turkey.
In a statement, the European Union called the opening of the rail link “a major step in transport interconnections linking the European Union, Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Central Asia.”
Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey were already linked by the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas line.
With reporting by AFP and Reuters